Posts tagged ‘Gray Jay’

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Northern edge of the Boreal Forest

The Boreal forest blankets a vast area of bedrock across Canada and into Alaska. In the Lower 48, the Boreal forest dips down into Minnesota, Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan and northern New England. If you include the vast boreal forests of Siberia, the Boreal biome is the largest “intact” forest in the world…even larger than the tropical rain forests that ring the equator. It is a MAJOR carbon sink for the planet. But the Boreal forest peters out as it transitions to tundra in colder climes. Churchill area on Hudson Bay is a transition zone from Boreal forest to treeless Tundra.

Characteristic trees of the Boreal forest include White Spruce, Black Spruce and Tamarack…and all three survive around Churchill (White Spruce on the drier ridges and Black Spruce in the wet bogs). Since I’m from northern Minnesota, the birds in this biome are pretty familiar to me, and so the tundra birds of Churchill were a much higher photographic target. BUT…there are several nesting species that I really wanted to digitally capture. Blackpoll Warblers and Orange-crowned Warblers only pass through Minnesota in migration. They are two of the eastern warbler species that do not breed in Minnesota’s vast North Woods. Fortunately they do breed in Ontario and Manitoba and I had good luck finding them in the Churchill area.

Best roads for Boreal forest in the Churchill area are the Twin Lakes Road and the Old Dene Village loop at the start of Goose Creek Road. If someone blindfolded me and parachuted me in to some of these spots, I wouldn’t have known if I was in Minnesota or the U.P. of Michigan or Maine or Siberia! But the staccato songs of the Blackpoll Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler would have given it away, as this pair of species do not breed in any of the aforementioned locations.

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

After I learned the song of the Blackpoll Warbler (they do not sing while migrating through northern Minnesota in spring), I found them in many stands of Black Spruce trees.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

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Boreal forest along the Twin Lakes Road (note Bonaparte’s Gull in tip top of spruce). Spruces and Tamarack (not yet “needled” out in foreground)

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The orange feet and legs of the Blackpoll Warbler are distinctive…and shockingly bright.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Blackpoll Warbler male (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Blackpoll Warbler plucking an ant off a willow catkin. (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2

Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 371mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Bonaparte’s Gull (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

A gull that nests in trees?! Yes, absolutely. The Bonaparte’s Gull is a true denizen of the Boreal forest, a mixed up place where flycatchers nest on the ground and gulls nest in the trees! Of course, not all flycatchers nest on the ground and not all gulls nest in trees (Herring Gulls build their nests directly on top of tiny rock islands on larger lakes), but the Bonaparte’s has really taken to “skyscraper living.” Andy why not? A lofty location affords protection from egg and nestling predators of the four-legged kind (fox especially)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/250 at f8; ISO 100; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Bonaparte’s Gull (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

One of my photo goals was to get a nice shot of a Bonaparte’s perched in the tip top of a spruce…and I think I did it! I will share some video later.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Bonaparte’s Gull yawning(?) as it loafs on a tiny island in the backwaters of the Churchill River (near the observation platform on Goose Creek Road) (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 371mm; 1/60 at f18; ISO 100; hand held] **NOTE that I had just switched over from shooting video (at the required 1/60 second) and that explains the TERRIBLE settings for this shot. I only got lucky that this is sharp.

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Bonaparte’s Gull plucking insects off the surface of a lake along Twin Lakes Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The Bonaparte’s Gull is named, not for Napoleon Bonaparte (you probably could have figured that out!), but for his nephew Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who made important contributions to American ornithology while an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1820s. This Bonaparte was a contemporary of John James Audubon.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

 

 

Gray Jay juvenile Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Juvenile Gray Jay along the Old Dene Village loop (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The proposed “National Bird” of Canada! …the Gray Jay (or “Canada Jay”…and I guess I should spell Gray, “Grey”). This is a juvenile as denoted by its very dark gray plumage and pink gape (corner of the mouth). There was a whole family group…2 adults and 2, possibly 3, juveniles…that I “squeeked” in by sucking on the palm of my hand. These are VERY curious birds, and any disturbance in “their” woods, and they will investigate.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Orange-crowned Warbler along Old Dene Village Loop (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

Trust me…they do have an orange crown! But it is mainly visible when they erect their head feathers when agitated.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Orange-crowned Warbler along Launch Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Orange-crowned Warbler along Launch Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you can probably see the “orange crown” for which this mostly drab warbler is named. Its preferred habitat (around Churchill) is wet willowy areas, especially with spruce forest nearby.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

American Tree Sparrow Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
American Tree Sparrow along Goose Creek Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

This is another species that only passes through northern Minnesota in migration. The American Tree Sparrow breeds mostly in Canada and Alaska and winters almost entirely in the Lower 48 (but not northern Minnesota…too cold I guess). Note the rusty red cap and eye line, gray face and single spot on the unstreaked breast.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

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Fox Sparrow singing from spruce perch. (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

I only saw a couple of these gorgeous sparrows while in Churchill. They migrate through my land in northern Minnesota in spring, jumping back and forth in the leaf litter below my feeders, scratching up seeds. But alas, they do not breed in Minnesota and continue north to nest in the Boreal forests. Their reddish rusty plumage, velvety gray feathers, and bold breast spotting make them a visual treat. Now who said sparrows can’t be beautiful?!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Rusty Blackbird (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

There are records of Rusty Blackbirds nesting in Minnesota…but only a handful and they were in very remote wooded swamps in the far northern reaches of the state.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4
Rusty Blackbird female in spruce (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Rusty Blackbird male (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

“Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species. The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years (Greenberg and Droege, 1999) and scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause. They are relatively uncommon denizens of wooded swamps, breeding in the boreal forest and wintering in the eastern U.S. ” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]

This fact really bewilders me…Like Cornell (owner of the website) says, the decline is puzzling since their habitat is remote wooded swamps of the vast Boreal forest…a habitat that is rarely touched by development (the swamp part, anyway).

What also is curious to me, is how they arrived at this amazing percentage of decline. As far as I can see, the data is from Breeding Bird Survey Routes (VERY FEW routes in their main breeding areas of boreal Canada) and winter Christmas Bird Count data (this data is probably better, but still not very comprehensive).

“Several hypotheses have been suggested to explain the decline.  Loss of wooded wetlands in southeastern wintering grounds is a likely contributor, as over 80% of this habitat has been converted to agriculture and other land uses.  Other possible factors on the wintering grounds include increased competition for food with other blackbird species – such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles – as well as increased exposure to an unknown disease to which it has not developed strong immunity.” [from http://www.rustyblackbird.org]

HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED TO HELP SOLVE THIS MYSTERY? Participate in the March-April Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz…Get details here

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Spruce Grouse Twin Lakes Road at intersection with Cook Street Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Spruce Grouse at intersection of “Cook Street” (just a 2 rut track) and Twin Lakes Road (narrow gravel road). (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

I’ve seen and photographed MANY Spruce Grouse in northern Minnesota, so I didn’t work too hard to get nice photos of this uncooperative guy. Sadly, a photo tour group that really wanted to see and photograph this species could not locate this highly desirable species even after trying for several days. That is the nature of birding…and wildlife photography.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; hand held]

Spruce Grouse Twin Lakes Road at intersection with Cook Street Churchill Manitoba Canada
Male Spruce Grouse (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; hand held]

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Top Ten Bird Photos 2016

This is an exercise I do every January…Pick my favorite nature images from the previous year. And I obviously don’t limit it to 10 images…It’s just too painful. So here is my “Top Eighteen” bird images of 2016. I’m also going to do a “Top Ten” for my favorite Creative Wildlife Images and Mammals.
I’m not saying these are the images that YOU are going to like best…nor are they images that are technically perfect, but they are, for various reasons, my favorites. So here they are in no particular order…

northern-cardinal-male-in-flowering-crabapple-mom-and-dads-house-new-hope-mn-img_6658Northern Cardinal, New Hope, Minnesota.
Do red and pink compliment each other? …or clash? I don’t mind the color combo of the red Northern Cardinal and pink-flowered crabapple in this photo…but I do think the touch of blue sky helps.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

american-goldfinche-img_8038American Goldfinch, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Would you be surprised if I told you I took this from the comfort of a camp chair in my yard? Well, I was in a blind, and the “pond” is actually a pool made from a 4×8 sheet of plywood and some 2x4s….an infinity pool for birds! I love how the yellow of the sunflowers matches the Goldfinch’s plumage. I was hoping for a better pose and head position but I’ll take it.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

barred-owl-cr18-near-hebron-cemetery-aitkin-co-mn-img_1504Barred Owl, Aitkin County, Minnesota.
Okay, to be honest, I was looking for Great Gray Owls when this Barred Owl appeared along a remote stretch of road. And unlike usual encounters with Barred Owls, this guy stuck around…He was very intent on some unseen rodent below the roadside snow. So I sat and watched. He finally plunged down but was unable to get the vole, but he paused long enough to get his portrait in early morning light.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld, braced on car window frame]

wild-turkey-in-snow-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2148Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
I never dreamed that I’d have Wild Turkeys in my woods in northeast Minnesota. In fact, I had to go to the extreme SE corner of the state in the 1980s just to add one to my state list…That’s about 300 miles south! But 30 years later, I have upwards of 30 that stop by my feeding station to load up on cracked corn. This guy seems to be wondering what that white stuff is falling from the sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/50 at f7.1; ISO 500; handheld, and taken through living room window]

black-backed-woodpecker-nest-norris-camp-beltrami-island-state-forest-lake-of-the-woods-co-mn-img_1405Black-backed Woodpecker nest, Norris Camp, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
Note how Black-backed Woodpeckers peal all the bark from around their nest hole…this is NOT done by Hairy Woodpeckers or other 4-toed woodpeckers. They also prefer living conifers with heart rot. I watched these busy parents and constantly begging young for a couple hours.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

black-bellied-plover-break-wall-wisconsin-point-superior-wi-img_7314Black-bellied Plover, Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior.
Shorebirds hold a special attraction for me. Partly because of where I live…in the middle of the country, but close to the “inland sea” of Lake Superior. I often scour the sandy beaches of Duluth, Minnesota’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point. I found this breeding plumaged Black-bellied Plover on the orange-lichened boulders of the Wisconsin Point breakwall. I like the contrast of the black and white bird, orange lichens and blue sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld, braced on rock]

broad-winged-hawk-nest-with-2-nestlings-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_5139Broad-winged Hawk nestlings, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Jessica Dexter and I found this nest during our Friends of Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz in July. What alerted us was a splash of whitewash on the shrubs along the path…We looked up and Bingo! They both fledged successfully and many folks got to watch them through a spotting scope from a safe distance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L with 1/4x teleconverter; 1/180 at f8; ISO 200; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

calliope-hummingbird-male-park-point-duluth-mn-img_1964-1Calliope Hummingbird, Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
This was only the second Minnesota record of a Calliope Hummingbird…and the other was a late fall blah-plumaged bird. This male was in all his summer splendor! He flared his gorget when a “rival” Ruby-throated Hummingbird would come by. Many folks got to see this stunner over a couple days along a dune boardwalk at the Duluth shore of Lake Superior.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 1600; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

forsters-tern-agassiz-national-wildlife-refuge-nwr-marshall-co-mn-img_9758Forster’s Tern, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota.
Several Forster’s Terns were making a circuit along this creek outflow. And the fishing must have been great, for they frequently plunged head-first into the water, and like this one, came up with beakfuls of small fish. I like the graceful swoop of the tern’s long tail.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld, braced on car window frame]

gray-jay-family-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9304-1Gray Jay, Owl Avenue, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Gray Jay taking flight from a small spruce.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1000; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

great-gray-owl-admiral-road-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_8922Great Gray Owl, Admiral Road, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
I do have 100s of decent Great Gray Owl photos, but I like this one because it places the owl in its favored habitat…Black Spruce-Tamarack forest.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 400; handheld]

mountain-bluebird-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4505Mountain Bluebird, Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
Boring pose but I love the merging of blues from Mountain Bluebird to sky…Someone famous once said (can’t remember who), “the bluebird carries the sky on its back.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2500 at f6.3; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-saw-whet-owl-near-burntside-lake-ely-mn-img_7214Northern Saw-whet Owl, near Ely, Minnesota.
My friend Bill Tefft found this nesting Northern Saw-whet Owl in an old Pileated Woodpecker cavity…and I jumped at the chance when he offered to escort me there. World’s cutest owl?
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 250; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-shrike-cranberry-road-lek-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_3277Northern Shrike, Sax-Zim Bog.
In early spring, the willows blush with bright red bark. A fantastic backdrop for this lingering Northern Shrike who will soon head north to its breeding grounds in northern Canada. The blue sky helps the shot as well.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

pine-grosbeak-male-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9632Pine Grosbeak male, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 800; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

ruffed-grouse-snow-carlton-co-mn-img_1106Ruffed Grouse, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Falling snow can be the bane or a boon to a wildlife photographer. The trick is to not use too fast a shutter speed. That will create distracting blobs of white. It is better to slow the shutter down a bit and get some motion in the falling flakes. Here I used 1/320 of a second.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; braced on car window frame]

savannah-sparrow-at-my-pool-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2465Savannah Sparrow, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Another visitor to my backyard bird pool set up. This Savannah Sparrow is enjoying a bath on a hot summer afternoon. I like the splashing water droplets.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

spruce-grouse-male-spruce-road-superior-national-forest-lake-co-mn-img_0659Spruce Grouse male, Spruce Road, Lake County, Minnesota.
I was guiding a couple from England when we found this male Spruce Grouse in far northern Minnesota…It was a lifer for both of them…the only one we got that day. He posed for us for quite awhile. They are a grouse of the boreal forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alaska and Canada.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/125 at f6.3; ISO 400; handheld]

Event 50 years ago changes my Life: Anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act & Boundary Waters Wilderness

Aerial lake BWCAW August 1985Fifty years ago this week, September 3, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Wilderness Act which forever protected 54 wild areas totaling over 9 million acres, including the 1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). I was 13 months old, but this landmark act would change my life.

That’s a grandiose statement but it does have elements of truth. In high school I discovered birds and became a fanatical naturalist. I started to get “all granola-ey” and began reading the books by Sigurd Olson about the canoe country (Open Horizons, Listening Point, Singing Wilderness, Reflections from the North Country). My first week-long summer canoe trip to the Boundary Waters with my church youth group in 1979 was a bit of a let down. I didn’t see and feel everything Sig had written about. Seemed like the BWCA was nothing but rocks, trees and water. But a two-week expedition in 1980 really got me hooked. We really became immersed in the wilderness, experiencing some of the “timelessness” that Sig often wrote about.

I went on to work five summers, a fall and a winter in the BWCAW. Mainly as a canoe guide and naturalist. Wilderness Canoe Base on Fishhook Island on Seagull Lake became my second home (certainly my spiritual home) for a long period. My friend Chris Evavold and I even built a log cabin for the camp. It is really where I fell in love with wildness and winter; boreal forests and bogs; Moose and Marten; paddling and snowshoeing.

Old Fisher Map Boundary Waters BWCA map SMALLI loved the old Fisher Maps. Believe it or not, this is what we used to navigate by; the red dots are campsites…fire grate, tent pad, G.L. (“government latrine”…basically a wood box in the woods).

The BWCAW’s million acres extend nearly 150 miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border, butting up to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park on the north and to Voyageurs National Park on the west. The BWCAW encompasses OVER 1,000 LAKES, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 11 hiking trails and approximately 2,000 designated campsites. Truly a vast roadless area.

Moose Antler BWCAW Oct 1996A shed Moose antler returning to the earth near Alpine Lake (until I picked it up…It now hangs on my friends outhouse!)

Stensaas-portage Little Indian Sioux BWCAWTravel in the Boundary Waters is primarily by canoe. Portage on the Little Indian Sioux River, BWCAW.

Peter Lake BWCAW MayA peaceful evening on Peter Lake, BWCAW.

Little Indian Sioux BWCAW MN SparkyStensaasLittle Indian Sioux River, BWCAW.

Larch Lake BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0008505Larch Lake, BWCAW

Gray Jay [Winter; BWCA Minnesota]Gray Jay comes to visit our campsite on a winter Boundary Waters trip. I learned that they’ll eat all your gorp…except the M&Ms!

Laurentian Tiger Beetle Cicindela denikei Seagull River BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0010481A rare Laurentian Tiger Beetle (Cicindela denikei) shimmers emerald green on its substrate of Saganaga granite. Lake Saganaga, BWCAW.

Common Loon calling BWCAW IMG_002475Nothing says wilderness in Minnesota like a calling Loon. Their haunting cries echo across still waters. Twin Lake, BWCAW.

Stensaas-BWCA1 IMG_0008672We owe those who fought for this wilderness a great debt of gratitude. If not for them, there would likely have been “a road to every lake” and a plethora of cabins and resorts, each with a boat, jet ski and other silence-busting contraptions.

Fog and canoe Bower Trout Lk BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0008630Floating on a cloud. Dense fog creates a surreal scene on this solo paddle on Bower Trout Lake, BWCAW.

BWCAW lake sunrise BWW-105Sunrises somewhere near Brule Lake, BWCAW.

Seagull River BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0010373Rushes along the Seagull River create a dramatic pattern.

Blue fog Bower Trout Lk BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0008653Blue Fog on Bower-Trout Lake, BWCAW. A cartographers mistake led to the name…It was supposed to be “Lower Trout Lake.”

Common Loon Blue Fog Twin Lake Cook Co MN IMG_002870Common Loon in blue dawn. Twin Lake, BWCAW.

Erin-Jon-Sam-BWCA winter copyA winter camping trip out of Ely into the Boundary Waters. Back to front: Sam Cook, Jon Farchmin, Erin Dewitt. Summer isn’t the only time to experience the “B-dub.”

Timo & Red Pine_Seagull Lake BWCAWThe ancient ones. These 400-year-old Red Pines originated from seeds in the 1500s! Timo Rova inspects an old fire scar. Sadly these pines are now all gone. The 4th of July Big Blowdown in 1999 and the two forest fires since then, have finished them off. Seagull Lake, BWCAW.

I hope some of the seedlings scattered by the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire and the 2007 Ham Lake Fire will flourish and grow into Red Pine monarchs that will still be watching over canoeists in the year 2414. Happy Birthday BWCA!

Top Twenty Bird Portraits 2013

I photographed nearly 250 species of birds in 2013…and it is always fun to look back over the year and pick my favorites (BTW I discovered that I kept nearly 10,000 bird images taken in 2013…And this is even after I deleted at least that many from my memory card before ever downloading). Most were taken very close to home in Carlton County, Minnesota. In fact, 15 were taken within 60 miles of home and 3 of those were taken on my land, and 2 were taken right from my living room! Only two images were taken outside of Minnesota…the dowitcher in Wisconsin and the oystercatcher in Florida. Previously I posted some of my favorite bird action shots. and Top Ten Creative Wildlife Shots. Here are my favorite bird portraits from 2013.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7224April was a brutal month in northern Minnesota…Over 48 inches of snow in April alone! This photo exemplifies the mood of the month. This early-returning Yellow-rumped Warbler seems disgusted to find spring not yet sprung in the North Woods. Fortunately, these insect-eating birds will also feed on suet, which we had plenty of. Taken from my living room easy chair! My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/640 at f5.6, ISO 125, -⅔ EV, hand-held through our living room window!]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6665Amazingly, several of my favorites of the year were taken through our living room picture windows. This Wild Turkey tom had love on his mind in mid April and here he is showing off to the half dozen hens that surrounded him. See more photos and video here. My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/160 at f5.6, ISO 640, -⅓ EV, hand-held through our living room window!]

White-throated Sparrow Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0324Just a nice simple portrait of a White-throated Sparrow. I brought these lichen-crusted rocks back from Wyoming just for this purpose. I placed them on my picnic table, then put out cracked corn for the migrating sparrows and blackbirds. My blind was 20 yards away. I could sneak in there for brief sessions before dinner when the light hit the table just right. My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 250, -⅔ EV, tripod in a blind]

Swamp Sparrow Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1734What I like about this photo is the graphic element of the vertical grass stalks with the Swamp Sparrow relatively small in the frame. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f6.3, ISO 200, hand-held but braced on bean bag on door window of car]

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398It’s not often that a shorebird allows your close approach…but this Short-billed Dowitcher did. I was able to sloooowly get out of my car and ease myself into the shoreline brush to get a closer shot. It was late in the fall migration so the dowitcher was very intent on feeding, gathering energy to continue its journey south. Crex Meadows, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/800 at f7.1, ISO 250, hand-held]

Northern Shoverler male near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1408Early morning light on one of our most spectacular ducks—the Northern Shoveler. It is named for its oversized bill that is used to sift pond waters for micro-organisms. See more Felton Prairie shots here. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f5.6, ISO 500, hand-held]

Horned Grebe adult Park Pt bayside Duluth MN Horned Grebe Park Pt Duluth MN IMG_9081Ice-out was very late in spring 2013. This can be good for photographers as it forces spring-migrating waterfowl to the open water close to shore (where the ice melts first). This Horned Grebe really had its “horns” up, and was in peak spring plumage. Love the red eyes too! Park Point, Bayside of Lake Superior, Duluth Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/640 at f8, ISO 800, -⅓ EV, hand-held]

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002This is actually a single frame from a clip of video I was shooting of this Great Gray Owlet. Because of that, the file is quite small and of limited use. I just like how the little guy was stretching its wings over its head.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7402See the full story and video of this amazing experience here.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens, 1/60 at f9, ISO 100, Canon 420EX flash, hand-held. NOTE: Not the ideal settings! I should have shot at max flash sync speed of 1/250 at a bit higher ISO, but I’d just been shooting video (which is always at 1/60 second) and forgot to change my camera settings.]

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2The two images above were from June when a friend of mine, Kim Risen, discovered a Great Gray Owl nest deep in a Spruce-Tamarack bog. The young had fledged but were still begging to be fed by mommy from their ground perches. I crawled slowly up to them with my wide angle lens and flash, took a few shots, then crawled away again. Mom supervised the whole operation. Northern Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 20mm, 1/60 at f9, ISO 100, Canon 420EX flash, hand-held. NOTE: Not the ideal settings! I should have shot at max flash sync speed of 1/250 at a bit higher ISO, but I’d just been shooting video (which is always at 1/60 second) and forgot to change my camera settings.]

Great Gray Owl nest Hedbom Road Aitkin Co MN Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/60 at f5.6, ISO 1000, tripod from blind]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946I just like the vertical composition of this image. Tamaracks turn a vibrant yellow-gold in the bogs of October and this Gray Jay made one his tip-top perch. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/250 at f5.6, ISO 400, hand-held]

Boreal Chickadee and Black-capped Chickadee Admiral Rd feeder Sax-Zim Bog MNAnother Sax-Zim Bog photo. I like this image because it is our two species of chickadees together on one branch. The Boreal Chickadee is restricted to deep dark Black Spruce/Tamarack bogs while the Black-capped is found in nearly every habitat in the North Woods. Boreals are more attractive in person than they are shown in the field guides; I love their warm brown cap and olive back. Amazingly they do not eat sunflower seeds! In fact, at this feeder (Admiral Rd in the Sax-Zim Bog) they only feed on suet and peanut butter—Fat! In the bogs they feed on insects (eggs, adults, larvae) and carcasses. It is my belief that if enough of them could gang up, they’d bring down a Moose! Feast time! But seriously, they do not readily leave the Black Spruce/Tamarack forests and are never seen at feeders away from their bog security blanket.
[Taken at Admiral Rd feeders in the Sax-Zim Bog. I set up the branch and put some peanut butter behind the branch to attract the chickadees. Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 420EX flash with Better Beamer.]

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1642Brewer’s Blackbirds are actually anything but black…In the right light, their iridescent feathers show purples, bronzes and greens. A weathered fence post and rusty barbed wire adds to the prairie feel. See more Felton Prairie shots here. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f6.3, ISO 250, -⅓ EV, hand-held, braced on car window frame]

Boreal Owl preens nr Stoney Pt Scenic 61 St. Louis Co MN IMG_0074883The winter of 2013 brought birders and photographers a special treat…an irruption of a rarely seen owl called the Boreal Owl. About the size of a small box of Kleenex, the Boreal Owl preys on voles but when vole numbers crash in areas north, they must move south in search of food. This little guy was photographed on an overcast day. It was a big surprise when I saw the image on the computer…I loved how the tree trunk’s lichens blurred to pleasing shades of green, and was especially excited about the oozing sap/pitch that turned blue in the shade, both contrasting nicely with the Boreal’s yellow eyes. See more of my photos and video of the irruption here. Near Stoney Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f5.6, ISO 3200, -⅓ EV, hand-held]

Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MNIMG_0074823It was a Boreal Owl irruption winter…the first in many years. The hungry owls had been driven south in search of food and ended up along the North Shore of Lake Superior near Duluth. The event was a treat for birders and photographers but was an ordeal for the owls. Fortunately, many seemed to be catching voles despite the deep snow. See more of my photos and video of the irruption here. Near Stoney Point, Duluth Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 100, tripod]

Bohemian Waxwing crabapple Duluth Zoo Duluth MN IMG_8418During a spring family outing to the Duluth Zoo, we stumbled on a very wild and non-captive flock of Bohemian Waxwings. The birds were happily feeding at head-height in a crabapple tree near the Siberian Lynx and Snow Leopard. I shot the birds as folks walked right by the tree without even noticing the birds (until they looked at me and wondered what I was photographing.) Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 160, -⅓ EV, hand-held]

Black Oystercatcher Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Meyers Beach FL IMG_4003A family vacation to Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida in June was filled with fun but cursed with bad weather (The kids didn’t even notice!). So when I took this shot of a Black Oystercatcher on a tidal shallow pool under heavy overcast skies, I didn’t think much would come of it. But when I got back home and saw it on the computer, I was ecstatic. The gray water and flat light actually work in this case. I blew out the whites to give the Oystercatcher a nice clean background. I love the curved sweep of its feathers as it preened. See more photos from the Florida trip here. Fort Meyers Beach, Florida
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 100, hand-held]

Bald Eagle CR4 Cemetary Rd Carlton Co MN IMG_0075839Bald Eagles often survive northern Minnesota winters feeding on roadkill White-tailed Deer. This one was doing just that. Can you see the blood on its bill? Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f6.3, ISO 250, hand-held braced on car window frame]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9999Every few years a flock of American White Pelicans stops by the St. Louis River near Fond du Lac, Duluth Minnesota. They usually spend a few weeks loafing, preening and fishing in a stretch of river near the bridge. They are always a blast to watch and I really enjoyed an afternoon with them in May. Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with 1.4x tele-extender, 1/1600 at f8, ISO 100, tripod]

Tamarack-ulous!

It is the time of year when almost all the deciduous trees are past peak and many have lost all their leaves. But there is one amazing tree that is just coming into its full glory…The Tamarack. This is our only deciduous coniferous tree. What? It means that though it has needles like spruces, fir, pine, they all drop off the tree every fall (deciduous)…But before they do, they turn an amazing yellow-gold, making the bogs blaze with color.

Tamarack Reflections Lima Mtn Road Cook Co MN SparkyStensaas 778_7861 (1)Sadly, this scene will never be repeated…These perfectly situated Tamaracks along the Lima Mountain Road in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest have all succumbed to the Eastern Larch Beetle.

FUN TAMARACK FACTS
1. The name “tamarack” comes from the Algonquin people of eastern Canada and means “wood used for snowshoes.” The Algonquins also gave us the name “moose.”
2. Also known as “larch” and “hackmatack”
3. Grows from Labrador to the Yukon and Alaska, south to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan east to Indiana, New York, Maryland. But the largest pure stands in the Lower 48 are in Minnesota.
4. Latin name is Larix laricina
5. Extremely cold tolerant! Can survive winter temps down to MINUS 85 F!
6. Also very rot resistant…In fact, when we built our house, our builder suggested Tamarack for the front porch. We had a local mill saw it up for us.
7. Eastern Larch Beetle (Dendroctonus simplex) is a native enemy of the Tamarack. Outbreaks in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota have been quite severe in recent years. A bane to the trees, is a boon to woodpeckers, bringing in irruptions of Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers and Black-backed Woodpeckers who flake bark from the trunks to get to the juicy grubs beneath. These rarely seen birds also bring in throngs of birders to see the birds.

Northern Hawk Owl NHOW-SS (Friesens Test)Ryan Marshik and I found this Northern Hawk Owl on a early November foray to Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It was perfectly teed up on a Black Spruce with a background of slightly-past-prime Tamaracks. Ryan quickly and graciously loaned me his Canon 500mm f4 and 1.4 extender and we were able to get this shot out the window of the car.
[Canon 10D, Canon 500mm f4 lens w/1.4x tele-extender, f5.6 at 1/160 second at ISO 400 (taken in 2004)]

Tamarack Yellow Motion Blur Toivola Swamp Sax-Zim Bog MNA very windy day in the Toivola Swamp adjacent to the Sax-Zim Bog. I decided to interpret the Tamarack gold in a new way…Leave the shutter open for a longer exposure and let the wind do its thing. And the amazing thing is that I like the result!
[Taken in the “film days”…Can you believe it?! …Probably with a Nikon FM2]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946Taken just a few days ago in the Sax-Zim Bog as the Tamaracks were approaching peak color. This curious Gray Jay came in to my squeaks. I like the fact that the Jay shares the starring role with the wispy yellow Tamarack foliage.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash (without Better Beamer)]

Tamaracks McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_9306Tamaracks and a brooding sky, Oct 21, Sax-Zim Bog.
[Canon 7D and Tamron 60mm f2 lens]

Hairy Woodpecker in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8934A bit of yellow Tamarack foliage adds nice contrast to the primarily black-and-white Hairy Woodpecker. The red bar on the back of his head makes this Hairy a He and not a She. Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens]