Posts tagged ‘great gray owl’

Best Bird Photos 2015

At the end of every year I look through all the photos I’ve taken in the last 12 months and pick my favorites. Throughout the year, I quickly star-rate my images in Aperture…3-stars are images that I’d like to explore more later. Then in December, I sort by all the 3-stars and upgrade a bunch to 4-star. In my final evaluation round I look for images that really stand out from the crowd. Creativity ranks quite high in my analysis of the finalists. A perfectly composed portrait is a very salable image, but quite boring in my mind. Here are the 20-some FIVE STAR BIRD PHOTOS FROM 2015 (in no particular order). Enjoy!
Barred Owl Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8448The Birch and the Barred
A Barred Owl leaps from its perch in a Paper Birch (Hey, that ryhymes!) It pays to be alert and watch for any sign that a raptor is about to fly. Make sure to have the camera on continuous focus, have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion, and hold the shutter down to fire off a bunch of photos.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250; hand-held]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7632Flight of the Barred
Continuous-focus shots of birds in flight in a snowfall is tricky business, but today’s cameras are pretty good at staying locked on to the main subject and not getting fooled into switching focus to falling flakes. Of course, the heavier the snowfall the harder this becomes. This is an uncropped image and I barely got both wingtips in the frame.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 2000; hand-held]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0205Picky Eater
Black Terns are a dainty cousin to the gulls. They feed by plucking insects and small fish from the surface or just under the surface of freshwater marshes. Quite rare in northern Minnesota, they were very common at Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marsh north of Winnipeg (see my post about this wonderful place here)
[Black Tern; Oak Hammock Marsh, Winnipeg, Manitoba]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250;-0.33ev; hand-held]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1030 Peep Peek
Stalking shorebirds is frustrating work. You crawl on the sand down the beach, sometimes only to have the flock change direction and move away from you. But sometimes they cooperate quite nicely. This Dunlin even felt comfortable enough to take a quick cat nap right in front of me!
[Dunlin; Wisconsin Point beach on Lake Superior; Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/1250; ISO 200 -1.33ev;hand-held]

Golden Eagle immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4158 Gold on Gold
Choosing the right location at the right time of year is critical to getting great wildlife photos. And with migrating raptors, it is also crucial to know what weather will bring the birds closer to you. In this case, I knew that strong NW wind days would force the hawks and eagles and falcons to funnel down the shore of Lake Superior and right over Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. The strength of the wind would keep the birds relatively low (distant colorful trees make a more pleasing background than boring blue sky). I also had a plastic owl on a pole to attract the curious and furious raptors. It all came together when this immature Golden Eagle not only came in, but came in BELOW us! This rarely happens. And I got to share this moment with several other birders.
[Golden Eagle, immature; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Great Gray Owl Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3912 Great Gray Stare
Though Great Gray Owls hunt mainly with their incredible hearing, their bright yellow eyes is what captured my attention. I also love the symmetry of their face, including the big facial disks that collect sound like radar dishes and focus it on their ear holes. And some are incredibly tame, allowing close approach and letting me get this close up portrait.
[Great Gray Owl; Sax-Zim Bog; Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/60; ISO320; hand-held (this exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Lincoln's Sparrow backyard bird pool Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1077 Lincoln Bathed Here
I picked this photo because it represented success with a new idea I had this fall; I made an eye-level pond out of a couple saw horses, some plywood and a couple 2x4s (upcoming spring blog post). As I sat in my blind, I wondered if I’d ever get anything better than the frequent goldfinch bathers…then this gorgeous Lincoln’s Sparrow showed up…and even better, he got in the pool and started bathing. And the light was perfect! Success!
[Lincoln’s Sparrow; Skogstjarna; Carlton County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/250; ISO 320; flash; tripod]

Northern Goshawk immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4068 Gos Attack
Fortunately this young Goshawk is attacking my plastic owl, Earl, and not me. Gos are fierce defenders of their nests and you don’t want to agitate a brooding mama. This technique is much safer. I placed the owl on a pole along a known migration route and waited. Most raptors dislike Great Horned Owls and they will readily harass a sitting owl. Focusing on a torpedo-like bird is a challenge, but sometimes you get lucky!
[Northern Goshawk; Hawk Ridge; Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Pied-billed Grebe Stone Lake Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2272 Stone Lake Silhouette
Canoeing at dawn on a wild lake often produces some great photo opportunities. This morning on Stone Lake in the Sax-Zim Bog was quite foggy. But I like the silhouettes you can make on such mornings, and the graceful arced rushes add much to the composition.
[Pied-billed Grebe; Stone Lake; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f10 at 1/800; ISO 100; hand-held]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084 Marsh Ruddies
West Central North Dakota is a spectacular place for prairie breeding birds. I spent a couple days there in June photographing the western specialties, including this pair of Ruddy Ducks. I don’t get to see them that often in northeastern Minnesota, so it was a special treat. I chose this photo simply because it was a beautiful photo of a beautiful duck in a beautiful setting (I really like the yellow bladderwort flowers that add a little something extra.)
[Ruddy Duck pair; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f22 at 1/60; ISO 250; braced on car door frame (exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from taking video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7695 - Version 2Perfect Perch
The sun barely peaked out from behind the clouds to cast some interesting light on this Barred Owl. And could you ask for a better perch?!
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Ruffed Grouse silhouette fall colors Hilpiper Rd Douglas Co WI IMG_0581 Stepping Out
This is one of those “G & G” (grab-and-go) shots that I NEVER thought would become one of my favorites of the year. I was just driving down a dirt road on my way to my “real” destination and preconceived photo goal, when I saw this Ruffed Grouse crossing the road. I stopped to get a shot out the window but was disappointed when she walked right into the deep shadows. But then I noticed the sun-lit fall foliage in the background and I had an idea. I dropped out of my van and lay on the road to get a low angle on the bird. I wanted to silhouette her against that fall color. I underexposed by a couple stops to make sure she went black. Success! Pays to keep an open mind when on a photo excursion, and be open to whatever happens in front of you. Zen and the Art of Wildlife Photography?
[Ruffed Grouse; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/320; ISO 400; -0.67ev; hand-held while laying on ground]

Snowy Owl adult male Menards Superior WI  IMG_4580 - Version 2 Landing Gear Down!
Was this photo taken in the Arctic, just as this adult male Snowy Owl was about to land on a snow-covered tundra hummock? Or was it preparing to touch down on a light pole at the Menards Store in the middle of Superior Wisconsin? I’ll let your imagination decide!
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin (oops! I just gave it away)]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 200; hand-held]

Snowy Owl Menards Superior WI IMG_3701 High Key Snowy
I really do love playing with photos in Aperture (or Lightroom) and Photoshop. I make no apologies for it. You are either going to hate or love this photo. I turned it into a “high key” image, where the whites are blown out intentionally. I did this to show off the stunning yellow eyes of this Arctic visitor to the northland.
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/320; ISO 500; hand-held]

Sora Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8809 Rail Cool
To get a photo like this, you have to sit for hours in a wet marsh, soaked from foot to forearm and just hope this secretive bird emerges from the cattails. But since I didn’t have this much time or motivation, I simply sat on the edge of the road and played the call of a Sora on my iPhone. Cheating? Maybe, but far more efficient. I do always keep the bird’s welfare in mind, and don’t overdo the playing of calls.
[Sora (rail); Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/400; ISO 320; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2573
Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2588 As Pretty as her Spouse (Both Photos Above)
Once you actually find a Spruce Grouse, they are incredibly trusting and allow close approach. The trick is finding one! I photographed this hen from my belly while she picked for grit on a dirt road in far northern Minnesota, then she flew up to eye-level in a nearby spruce (how convenient!). Fortuitously there was also some yellow birch leaves in the background. I think female Spruce Grouse are as attractive as the males.
[Spruce Grouse hen; Superior National Forest; Lake County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/80; ISO 1250; tripod (only way I could get away with this exposure!)]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295 Flight of the Swampy
Flight shots are low percentage shooting….meaning you get very few “keepers” (shots that are sharp and in focus). But in this digital age, we have nothing to lose! In the film days, this show would have cost me $20!…$10 for a roll of Fuji Velvia and $10 for processing the 36 slides…OUCH!
[Swamp Sparrow; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; braced on car door frame]

Turkey Vulture sun bathing wings spread Tofte dump Cook Co MN IMG_9670Bathing Beauty?
Vultures often “sun bath” to dry their wings, but you don’t often get them doing it on such a nice perch in such nice light. Of course, this was at a municipal dump, but you can’t tell it from the photo!
[Turkey Vulture; Tofte Dump; North Shore of Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f8 at 1/1250; ISO 400; braced on car door frame]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1500 Take off!
You can only take so many photos of an Upland Sandpiper standing on a wooden fence post. So then you wait…and wait…and wait for it to do something else, like stretch or yawn or …fly! I was ready this time and just held down the shutter as it leapt from its perch.
[Upland Sandpiper; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 500; hand-held]

Virginia Rail Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas County WI IMG_0222Yes Virginia, You are a Rail
I’d never managed to get a good photo of an adult Virginia Rail. I once had lots of fun with a juvenile Virginia from my floating blind (see blog post and photos here}. But this May day was my Lucky Day and it appeared from the cattails in perfect light…a gorgeous bird that is rarely seen. By the way, they are called “rails” because their body is incredibly thin when viewed head on, and this is actually the source of the phrase “thin as a rail.”
[Virginia Rail; Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/500; ISO 1/1000; -0.33ev; hand-held]

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Northern Owls in a Hoar Frost Wonderland

When I left my house this morning (Dec 11th) I was a bit bummed as the skies were gray and the light flat. But when we started gaining elevation out of Duluth, a hoar frost wonderland began to appear. Every single bud, branch, needle and twig on every single tree was coated in a feathery frost. Spectacular! Now if we could only find some subjects! I was traveling with Dave Shaffer from Spooner, Wisconsin (one of the best Black Bear photographers in the country…see his images (all taken in the wild) at http://www.bearwitnessimages.com) and we were after one thing…Owls!

Most birders and photographers who love boreal birds have heard of northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It is a Mecca for those searching out lifers or photos of northern birds such as Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll and, of course, owls. Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl are regular nesters and can be found easily most winters. Boreal Owls, Snowy Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owl are much more rare.

Great Gray Owl hoar-frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1794[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/400, ISO 400, aperture priority]
Great Gray Owl atop a tiny Tamarack cloaked in hoar-frost, Sax-Zim Bog MN
After a couple hours of unfruitful searching, we spotted a dark blob far down the road. I knew instantly that it was a Great Gray…the Phantom of the North! This was Dave’s first ever Great Gray…a “lifer” in birder parlance. And what a bird! This guy (girl?) kept on hunting for over an hour as we watched and kept clicking the shutter.

This is probably my favorite image from the day. I lover the graceful curve of the Tamarack tip and the “bird in landscape” feel. It really gives you a sense of the boreal haunts of this magnificent bird. I tweaked the white balance to give it a more cool (blue) feel. Though these are the tallest owl in North America (30 inches tall!) they are all feathers and rank third in weight (behind Snowy and Great Horned).

Hoar frost Tamaracks Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1986Hoar Frost is relatively rare in the North Woods, but when it happens you better grab your camera and go! Here is a definition from http://www.weatheronline.com.uk
“Under clear frosty nights in winter soft ice crystals might form on vegetation or any object that has been chilled below freezing point by radiation cooling. This deposit of ice crystals is known as hoar-frost and may sometimes be so thick that it might look like snow. The interlocking ice crystals become attached to branches of trees, leafs, hedgerows and grass blades and are one of the most prominent features of a typical ‘winter wonderland’ day. However, the fine ‘feathers’, ‘needles’ and ‘spines’ might also be found on any other object that is exposed to supersaturated air below freezing temperature.

The relative humidity in supersaturated air is greater then 100% and the formation of hoar frost is similar to the formation of dew with the difference that the temperature of the object on which the hoar frost forms is well below 0°C, whereas this is not the case with dew. Hoar frost crystals often form intitially on the tips of plants or other objects.”

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1954
Great Grays are powered by voles—both Meadow Vole and Red-backed Vole. Some studies have shown that their diet is 97% voles. Their talons are tiny compared to Great Horneds which eat much larger prey (rabbits, squirrels). And voles must be in good supply as this guy caught two back to back within minutes.

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1592

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1592 - Version 2The two images above are just different crops of the same original image. Which do you like better? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320, ISO 400, aperture priority, tripod]

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1739[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320, ISO 640, aperture priority]

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1882 (1)[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 500, aperture priority, tripod]
At dusk we found another Great Gray along McDavitt Road, about a mile or two from the other bird (as the raven flies). Thankfully Great Grays often pick photogenic perches in this stretch of road that has NO power poles or fence posts!

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1850[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 640, aperture priority, tripod]
The spruce boughs in the background hint at this bird’s wild far northern haunts.

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]

Dream Come True: Witness to a Great Gray Owl nest

Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410Two Great Gray Owlets await mommy or daddy from their lofty nest in a large Tamarack.

I had the great fortune of having a good friend who was willing to share the location of a Great Gray Owl nest he had found recently. Kim Risen is a professional bird guide based out of Tamarack, Minnesota, who leads birding trips across the globe, from South Africa to South America to Costa Rica to Mexico and even in his ‘backyard’ of northern Minnesota. Kim found this nest on a June trip with a client. He’d seen young in this general vicinity several times over several different years. He graciously shared the site with me.

I first visited the Black Spruce/Tamarack bog with Kim and his wife Cindy on June 18th and made several more visits, the last on June 28th. Two owlets were in the nest until at least June 24th, then must have “flew the coup” around June 27th or 28th when we found them on the ground.

VIDEO SHOWING BEHAVIOR & COMMENTARY ON FAVORITE PHOTOS (7 MINUTES)

You can see more of my wildlife videos HERE

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7396Note mom in the bottom left corner of the image…She was never very far away. The young were generally silent…until they saw an adult when they gave a loud screech (can hear it late in the video). But the female often gave a rising “Whoop!” call. Robert Nero, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Great Gray Owls, says this call “is often given by the female on the nest as a means of communicating with the male.” Robert Taylor, author of The Great Gray Owl: On Silent Wings calls this is “food request call” and it is given more frequently during years of low vole supplies. It likely helps the male find the female too as he delivers the food to her so she can feed the owlets. May this also be the female’s form of communication with the owlets?…”You’re okay…I’m right here.”

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390On June 28th I went to photograph the owlets from my blind…But I saw no action in the nest. Just as I was contemplating this, I simultaneously heard my cell phone ring as well as a screech from ground level. I assumed the screech was one of the owlets who’d left the nest. It was Kim on the phone and he was in the bog and had seen the young on the ground. As he was talking I found one of the owlets ‘teed up’ on a stump… “Found one! Gotta go.” I set up my tripod and folding chair, then draped camo netting over myself and started shooting. The owlet stared at me for 20 minutes without taking its eyes off me, though its posture relaxed over this time. Then when he/she was comfortable that I was not a predator, the owlet started to look around, and even stretch.

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002STREEEEETCH! FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO CLIP. The young Great Grays often stretched like this…Working their flight muscles I imagine. Fortunately he was facing me head on and gave me this unique perspective. [Note that when you extract a frame from a HD video clip you only get a 1920x1080pixel image to work with…and it’s shot at 1/60 second…and its basically a jpeg. Very limited use, but fine for the web].

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7389Though the owlets can’t fly at this age, they sure can get around! They will walk across the bog then climb leaning trees and stumps by using their talons for grip and using their beak to grab branches like a parrot, pulling themselves up, wings held over their back for balance.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2 (1)The ticket to not alarming wild critters is to move slowly, stay low, avoid eye contact, and talk to them in a low soft voice (don’t whisper!). And stay in plain sight so you are not mistaken for a sneaky predator. I got very close to this owlet…Close enough to use my 10-20mm lens with full flash. I love the low angle and wide perspective which really puts the owl in its habitat.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7343

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7302Eye-level shot with Canon 400mm f5.6. I WISH I’d put my big flash and Better Beamer on! The images looked okay on the LCD but there is a weird greenish cast from the light filtering down through the canopy. Live and learn!

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7410The sibling to the owlet on the stump, is this fuzzball. I found him/her on a comfy cozy patch of super-soft Sphagnum moss. I laid on my belly, crawled towards her (got soaking wet!) and inched to within a foot of her/him. He/she began bill clacking, an alarm signal, so I snapped a few photos (full flash) and backed off.

I wish this little family well and hope they find many fat voles!

[All photos and video taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Sigma 10-20mm lens, Canon 580EX flash, Cabela’s Lightning Set pop-up blind, Manfrotto tripod]

My free Owls eBook for iPad/iPhone (and coffee-table book)

Bog Hunters is a gorgeous (if I do say so myself!) 40 page 12″x12″ coffee-table book that I made for a fundraiser for my non-profit Friends of Sax-Zim Bog (www.saxzim.org).

It is simply compelling photos of the BIG THREE northern owl species…Boreal Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and Great Gray Owl (Great Grey Owl for all my European friends). I also list locations of where the image was taken. There is also a spread of “bog neighbors.” This is not a how-to book, nor is it a natural history guide…just “perdy” pictures.

And now it is available for FREE download for those with iBooks on their iPad or iPhone.
Go to this link to download it:

FREE BOG HUNTERS EBOOK FOR IPAD/IPHONE

[WARNING: It took me several tries to download it to Bridget’s original/1st generation iPad1]

A large format print version…hardcover with lustre paper…is available as well. The price is a daunting $86.13 (shipping included) BUT I am only charging what Blurb.com is charging me to print a single copy. Here is a link:

CHECK OUT (OR PURCHASE) COFFEE-TABLE VERSION OF BOG HUNTERS

Here are some LOW-RES page spreads

BOG HUNTERS pg 14-15
Bog Hunters pg 16-17
Bog Hunters pg 24-25

Hunting with a Great Gray Owl: Shooting with Sparky video

Great Grey Owl, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

What are the odds? I took a compass bearing to head straight through the center of a large Black Spruce bog last week, hoping (but not really believing) that I’d possibly, just maybe, hear a begging young Great Gray Owl.

Less than a hundred yards into the bog, I stopped dead in my tracks; There was a hunting Great Gray only about 50 feet from me and only 10 feet up in a spruce! She barely looked at me, and continued hunting. See how the adventure unfolded in the video below:

Join me as I enter the dark and haunting bogs of the far northern Minnesota wilds in search of the elusive and giant phantom of the north—the Great Gray Owl! (How’s that for drama!)

I especially like this Great Gray Owl photo because of several factors:
a. It was NOT shot along a road…like 99.9% of all Great Grey Owl images.
b. She is NOT looking at me…She (or he?) is busy hunting…too preoccupied to worry about a mere human.
c. I love the out of focus wispy Tamarack branches…Lends an air of wildness and hints at their bog habitat.

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 (sometimes with 1.4x or 2x teleconverter), tripod, processed in Aperture.
All video shot with equipment listed above at 1/60 second and processed in iMovie.

Gray Morning Great Gray

Great Grey Owl

On Memorial day, I got up very early to make a quick trip to the Sax-Zim Bog. It was a gray, misty morning but calm. And the resident birds seemed energized after several days of heavy rain and thunderstorms.

And at 9am I got a wonderful surprise…A Great Gray Owl was hunting voles along McDavitt Road. This probably means that this owl has a nest full of begging beaks somewhere in the vast Black Spruce/Tamarack bog. I was able to get some video and photos as he/she hunted the wet ditch sides. Not very concerned with me, she eventually flew deeper into the bog. I was able to get this photo from the car window by bracing the 400mm lens on the door frame.

I tried to maneuver the car a bit to minimize background clutter and this is the best I could do. I don’t really mind the background branches as much as I thought I would…And I love the lichen-festooned branch the owl is sitting on. Ninety-plus percent of Great Gray photos you see were taken in winter, mainly because that is when they are more visible as they hunt open meadows and roadsides. Summer usually finds them hunting deeper in the bogs. This image has a warmer feel than those.

Also note that my camera was ready to go in the seat next to me when the Great Gray appeared; It was preset to Tv (shutter priority 1/400 second and auto ISO. This way I knew I could shoot handheld and still get a sharp image…And I can live with the noisier image at ISO 1000. If I’d had my camera on aperture priority f5.6, I may have ended up shooting at a slow shutter speed and getting an unsharp and unusable image.

Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens at f5.6 1/400 sec at ISO 1000, handheld but braced on door frame of car.

Elsewhere in the Sax-Zim Bog I had some interesting birds. Though no “wolf whistles” of the Upland Sandpipers were heard, a very surprising Western Meadowlark was singing; Easterns are more common here. In the same field, a lone Sharp-tailed Grouse sat atop a wooden fence post. Nobody told him the party was over three weeks ago! Magpies foraged in hay fields along CR229. Bobolinks had also arrived.
I flushed a group of 6 American Woodcock from a clump of hazel…likely a family group as they nest early and stay together for a while.
In the Black Spruce bogs Connecticut Warblers were found at several locations including a couple males singing on opposite sides of one road. Blue-headed Vireos were at several sites. Winter Wrens and Sedge Wrens were in full song. And Yellow-bellied Flycatchers have returned to their bog breeding forests. Lincoln’s Sparrows sang from the scrubby taiga-like bogs.