Posts tagged ‘great gray owl’

FIVE OWL SPECIES Mink Bobcat Ermine Wolf

Virtually Live 25 S2E10

In this episode of Virtually Live from the Sax-Zim Bog, Sparky Stensaas shares his favorite sightings from the last month, including FIVE SPECIES OF OWLS, MINK, BOBCAT, ERMINE & WOLF! All in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota from early February through early March.

Encounters with FIVE different owl species in Sax-Zim are highlighted… An adorable Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts below a feeder; A Great Gray plunges into the snow and pulls up a vole; chickadees help him find a Barred Owl soaking up the sun at Fringed Gentian Bog; a Snowy Owl NOT on a power pole!; and a Northern Hawk Owl returns to the Bog and performs and preens for the camera.

Sparky also shares some ETIQUETTE for watching and enjoying Great Grays without disturbing them.

In additIon, we watch a Mink hunt for fish, see an Ermine in hunting mode and enjoy a Bobcat just sitting there.

We also make a stop at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center to see what’s happening there: Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls in slow motion.

And lots more!

2021 “Top Ten” #6 Birds & Wildlife in the Landscape

Though I do still enjoy a beautiful “bird on a stick” frame-filling portrait, more satisfying to me now is a wider field of view showing the bird or mammal in its native habitat. It tells more of a story about how and where that critter lives. Here are my favorites from 2021

Common Redpoll in frosty branches; January; Skogstjarna Carlton County, MN

We had about three days of GORGEOUS rime ice in early January 2021. It coated everything in a huge area of northern Minnesota. Rime ice is basically dense fog that freezes. That is how it differs from hoar frost. In hindsight, I should have spent A LOT more time looking for subjects amongst this crazy backdrop since it only occurs rarely. I did find this Common Redpoll out my living room window though. Its red cap adds a much-needed splash of color to the scene.

Migrating geese; March; Western Minnesota

Maybe this is less “bird-in-the-landscape” and more “specks on the horizon” but the two flocks of geese (squint real hard!) add a lot to this rural western Minnesota farms cape.

Wild Turkey Toms displaying; April; Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota

It is not everyday that you can take a winner image while taking the garbage cans out to the road! Here three tom Wild Turkeys are in full display mode for the numerous hens just out of frame. I like the backlit feathers and aspen catkins.

Snow Geese and Moon; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

I didn’t even notice the moon until well into my trip to North Ottawa Impoundment. Then I had the “aha” moment, and started taking hundreds of photos pointing my camera straight up into the azure blue spring sky. I like this wider image that has the moon in line with the Snow Geese, and I also appreciate that the line of migrating geese goes from upper left to lower right corner of the frame.

Rock Pigeons and old warehouse; March; Superior, Wisconsin

Hey, this IS the native landscape for Rock Pigeons! They live/nest in this old warehouse in Superior, Wisconsin. I just like the symmetry of the windows as well as the texture and colors of the weathered boards and tin siding…oh, and the pigeons add to the photo too.

Porcupine and Willow catkins; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Porcupines are relatively easy to find in late spring in the Sax-Zim Bog due to the fact that they feast on willow and aspen catkins relatively low in the woods. I framed this fella with blobs of yellow by shooting through a flowering willow with a larger aperture.

Black Tern over marsh; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

I do love this shot….BUT…I wish I had left the tern more space on the right so I could crop it so the bird was more to the left of the frame.

Cottontail and Badlands; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The “Badlands” are really a land of plenty for the many critters that live there. Though it appears to be an inhospitable landscape, there is no shortage of wildlife that call it home such as this curious (cautious?) Cottontail.

Gilded Flickers on Saguaro; July; Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Gilded Flickers are close cousins to our Northern Flickers, but they are only found in their preferred Saguaro cactus habitat in Arizona and extreme SE California. They even excavate nest cavities in the prickly cacti.

Blue-winged Teal takeoff at sunset; May; Kidder County, North Dakota

Dusk in the floating blind. I thought shooting time was over, but I noticed the thunderheads turning pink on the horizon and wondered if I could get some ducks in the foreground. It didn’t take long before I maneuvered the blind into position for a raft of four Blue-winged Teal. But before I could get a shot, they jumped into the air and were gone. But I got lucky, as this frame turned out to be my favorite.

Common Nighthawk on fence post; June; South Dakota

Nighthawks are rarely seen in the full sun of daytime. They are primarily a bird of dusk when they take wing to suck up flying insects in the air. That tiny bill opens to reveal a huge gaping mouth, which is all the better for inhaling mosquitos.

White-tailed Deer in snowy field; April; Carlton County, Minnesota

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

Trumpeter Swan squabble on snow; March; near Danbury, Wisconsin

I intentionally included the meandering tracks of this early-returning pair of Trumpeter Swans as it lent a bit of visual interest. This would be a killer shot with more dramatic light.

Tufted Titmouse orange and blue; February; Old Frontenac Cemetery, Minnesota

You don’t often see Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota, and when you do they are usually tucked into an evergreen. I like the out-of-focus leaves that make orangish blobs of color that match the buffy sides of the titmouse.

Snow Geese; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

You build it and they will come. That is certainly true of the impoundment project called North Ottawa. Now every spring, tens of thousands of geese state here on their way north. Quite a sight, and an even more impressive auditory experience.

Bald Eagle nest; February; near Winona, Minnesota

I HAVE to get down here to photograph this nest in early spring next year. I love this shot, but it would even be better with the spring green of just-emerging leaves to warm up the scene. Big bird, big nest, big tree.

Rough-legged Hawks; March; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

On their way back to the Arctic, Rough-legged Hawks hunt open areas all over the upper midwest.

Great Gray Owl; February; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I just like the gray of the Great Gray amongst the white branches of the aspens. Last year’s leaves add a pop of subtle color.

Sharp-tailed Grouse; May; central North Dakota

This picture really shouts, “North Dakota.” A land of open country, grasslands, empty spaces, and prairie birds such as this lone Sharp-tailed Grouse.

River Otter; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

A River Otter sighting can brighten a gloomy spring day.

Red-breasted Mergansers; March; Lake Superior, Two Harbors, Minnesota

Northeast winds had stacked shards of blue ice along the shore at Lighthouse point on Lake Superior. I used a small aperture to keep the Red-breasted Mergansers in focus while giving some detail to the ice.

Varied Bunting; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

I just like the leading lines of the Ocotillo that bring the eye to a stunner of a bird; the Varied Bunting which is in full song.

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Montana isn’t the only ” big sky country”! North Dakota has its share of vast skyscapes. A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird sings to the sky its melodious song….STOP…let me rephrase that…A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird croaks out its grating call to any other blackbirds that might be nearby.

White-throated Swift; June; Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

Not many other birds share the same habitat as the White-throated Swift! Crevices in bare rock cliffs is where this relative of the swallow nest. And this one is swooping up into its retreat on the one and only Devil’s Tower.

Black-throated Sparrow; July; Stateline Road near Portal, Arizona

I just LOVE birds perched on rusty barbed wire…and especially if there is an old wood fence post in the frame as well. Jackpot! Black-throated Sparrow in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Arizona-New Mexico line.

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I like this photo of Evening Grosbeaks in white-barked Aspens …but I would LOVE it if there were a few more in the center of the frame…and if the others were looking into the center. Oh well.

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Just a tiny bit of rim light illuminates these Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Moody!

Eastern Meadowlark; April; Firebird WMA, Carlton County, Minnesota

Yellow bird amongst yellowish grasses in a snowy scene. An early-arriving Eastern Meadowlark is greeted by an April snowstorm.

Sagebrush Sparrow; June; near Pinedale, Wyoming

Maybe a portrait and not a bird-in-the-landscape but kind of in-between. Enjoyed a wonderful morning in the sagebrush flats south of Pinedale, Wyoming, and the surprisingly colorful Sagebrush Sparrow was a species I’d never photographed before.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

Just allow me one more “bird in frosty landscape” shot.

Western Grebe and submerged tree; May; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota

The water has been rising in central North Dakota for years. The last time I visited this spot six years ago, this tree was still on dry land! A lone Western Grebe confirms that this is now a permanent lake.

Great Gray Owl; January; Superior National Forest, Cook County, Minnesota

It is always fun to stumble upon a Great Gray in a spot where you don’t expect them. This was an early morning jaunt in the Superior National Forest to look for Moose (which I did find). I love its perch and wanted to include the whole thing in the photo.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

What can I say? I like birds in frosty landscapes!

Well, this concludes my “Top Tens” of 2021 posts. Now I better get out there and start shooting so I will have some Top Tens of 2022 to share next year!

All photos taken with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens

2021 “Top Ten” #4 Creative Wildlife

This is really where my heart is in regards to wildlife photography.

Black-capped Chickadee; January; Skogstjarna in Carlton County, Minnesota

Black-capped Chickadee wings iridesce when backlit by the sun. My fingers were frozen by the time I got the shot, but it was worth it 🙂 The electronic 30fps shutter on the Canon R5 sure helps in these situations!  As does prefocusing on the spot where the chickadee will be. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 270mm; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 800; -1.00 ev; tripod]

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake; July; San Pedro House Reserve, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Laying on the ground with a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is an experience I hadn’t had until my July trip to southeast Arizona. I creatively cropped this image to highlight its eye with the unique vertical pupil.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Sandhill Cranes; October; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

I’m the only photographer that goes to Crex Meadows on the day before a full moon to shoot silhouettes such as this…Yeah right! I was just one of a couple dozen photogs there this evening to try and get this type of shot. Why go on the day before the full moon? Well, that is the evening that the moon rises before the sun sets and you can get some decent light on the birds in front of the moon. It is pretty much impossible to get both the cranes and moon in sharp focus even with a f22 aperture. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Black Tern; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Probably my favorite image from Ryan and I’s trip to the prairie potholes of North Dakota this past May. It was one of those situations that you dream of….Your subject just keeps hanging around (in this case a flock of Black Terns) and the light keeps changing (sun, rain, dramatic clouds, rainbows, sunset). We shot a lot. But this image was my favorite…and the bird isn’t even in the shot! Just the reflection of a Black Tern, the rain drops forming concentric rings, and the blue-orange reflection in the water. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Red-breasted Merganser; February; Lake Superior; Two Harbors, Minnesota

I shot through a pile of blue ice to frame this Red-breasted Merganser on Lake Superior. Unique and creative to be sure, but not my favorite shot. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 363mm; 1/400 second at f7.1; ISO 160; +1.66 ev; handheld]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; July; Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds; Patagonia, Arizona

Despite my “freeze frame” in-flight photo of a Broad-billed Hummer that made my Top Ten Bird Portraits, I actually prefer this Broadbilled shot. I slowed the shutter to a crazy slow 1/60 of a second and took a bunch of photos. This was my favorite…Head/eyes sharp and side lit wings in motion.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 238mm; 1/60 second at f5; ISO 100; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Prairie Dog; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Apologies to my photo buddy Ryan (who hates “the dirty prairie dogs”), but I think they are darn cute and fun to watch. While waiting for Coyotes and Badgers in an unnamed valley in Theodore Roosevelt National Park I spent most of my time watching the antics of the “dogs.” The sun was setting and the rim light was developing nicely. I waited for this guy to stand up and throw his head back to give the warning call. It happens so quickly that I missed several but did get this one. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 160; -1.33 ev; tripod]

Great Gray Owl; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Spending time with a Great Gray all alone in Sax-Zim is like gold. And I enjoyed every minute of my solitude with this hunting owl. Maybe this shouldn’t be included in a Creative Wildlife category since it is just a frame plucked from a video clip. But I like the panning motion blur of the gliding Great Gray, which is inherent in video since it is shot at 1/60 second at 30fps.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/60 second; handheld]

Western Grebe; Chase Lake NWR; North Dakota

I selectively desaturated this Western Grebe’s portrait leaving the shockingly red eyes and straw yellow bill. I like the feel of this photo…and I also think the water droplets are kind of neat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f13; ISO 1600; +0.33 ev; on ballhead in floating blind]

Wild Turkey toms; April; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Sometimes good things can happen on your way to taking the garbage cans to the end of the driveway! I looked up and saw about 30 Wild Turkeys in neighbor Paul’s field. There were about a dozen toms and 15 or 20 hens. It was quite a scene…strutting, battles, chasing. And the best part was that it was all backlit creating some very cool images. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 160; -2.00 ev; handheld]

Blue Grosbeak; Box Canyon; Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

High key images are finding their way into my faves category more and more these days. And it is a great technique when you have a bird against a blaah gray sky. Even better if you can include an interesting branch. I got both in this shot of a Blue Grosbeak in SE Arizona. I could have taken the yellow out of the branches but decided that the color added something to the image. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 160; +0.33 ev; tripod]

Sandhill Cranes; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Another favorite from Crex Meadows “full moon-Sandhill Crane” shoot. The purple sky came out with some post processing in Lightroom. See above for more details on this evening at Crex.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Pied-billed Grebe; Kettle River, Carlton County, Minnesota

The thing about creative wildlife photos is that you often have to intentionally search for the creative possibilities in each situation. Since I was looking down on this PIed-billed Grebe, and it was flat gray light, it would have made a blaah portrait. But by intentionally shooting through the snow blobs on the willows it created a  surreal scene. It is nearly a black and white image, but I like the touch of red on the grebe’s throat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/320 second at f5; ISO 100; -0.66 ev; handheld]

Western Grebe; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota

I do love silhouettes, but there usually has to be something extra about the photo to make it a “top tenner.” In this image of a Western Grebe on Horsehead Lake in North Dakota, that something extra is the geometric shapes of the rushes and their reflection. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/400 second at f14; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Virtually Live 17: S2E2 May 8, 2021

May Birding Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live 17 S2E2 May 8 2021

Sparky takes you along on an “early” spring birding trip in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. Only 25 degrees at the start, but the good birds warm things up…stunning male Black-and-white Warbler, lingering Evening Grosbeaks, Yellow Warbler, cooperative Merlin, and a very unexpected Great Gray Owl.

We also check in on the highlights from the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog “Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night” field trip (can you say “cooperative Great Gray”!). Also a cacophony of frogs (4 species), displaying Snipe and more.

And we see how we discovered a $500 bill and a blond woman’s wig in the Bog. What?!!

You never know what surprises might accompany an episode of Virtually Live!

Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

Virtually Live 13 Christmas Bird Count Sax-Zim Bog: Great Gray Owl, Fisher, Short-eared Owl Dec 2020

My 35th year as compiler of the Sax-Zim Christmas Bird Count turned out to be a record-breaker despite teams having to social distance. 13 hardy participants brave -10 below zero F windchills in northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog to turn up 39 species!

We also find a species NEVER recorded on the count before (revealed in the video). And I find several owls and gets some crazy cool images of a Great Gray Owl plummeting and pouncing on suspected vole victims.

We find Boreal Chickadees, accidentally film some Black-billed Magpies at the “Bison Farm,” make a visit to Loretta’s grosbeak-rich feeders and have a yummy lunch at the Wilbert Cafe.

I also share some exciting recent sightings of a Fisher chasing Snowshoe Hare and a Short-eared Owl on Stone Lake Road.

Thanks to all CBC Participants: Bill Tefft, Lori Williams, Frank Nicoletti, Abbie Valine, Dave David Benson, Lars Benson, John Ellis, Sparky Stensaas, Sarah Beaster, Clinton Dexter-Nienhaus, Kristina Dexter-Nienhaus, Tony Anthony Hertzel, Tommy Hertzel

Virtually Live 6 Birding Field Trip to the Sax-Zim Bog; May 19, 2020

Number six! I enjoy doing these …especially the birding! Not so much fun to come home and download 4 memory cards (two cameras, sound recorder, Go Pro) and then edit 200 clips into a 15-20 minute video before bed. Long day! (I have to upload to Youtube overnight due to our family usage of WiFi during the day).

Highlights of this trip include a hunting Great Gray Owl, a dirt-eating Porcupine, breeding White-winged Crossbills, juvenile Canada jays and 10 species of warblers including Magnolia, Northern Waterthrush, Black and white Warbler, tour of the new MOTUS tower and more. Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

Virtual Field Trip 2— Birding Sax-Zim Bog April 21, 2020

Our second Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live birding field trip. April 21, 2020. On this outing Sparky Stensaas nearly drives right by a Great Gray Owl, finds cooperative pairs of Sandhill Cranes, photographs late Snow Buntings and Northern Shrikes and more. We wind our way around the Sax-Zim Bog from 6:20 am to 11:15 am with stops at Stone Lake, Sax Road, St. Louis River, Arkola and more. Superstar bird of the day is ????

Sparky’s Top 10 “Wildlife in the Landscape” Photos 2018

More and more I enjoy wildlife photos that show the critter in its landscape. Portrait photos can be stunning but they often don’t tell you anything about the environment that the animal lives in…or even what the animal is doing.

Bison in steam of geyser basin Fountain Paint Pots Yellowstone National Park WYIMG_0902

Bison and “bobby sock trees” (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

I like the low saturation and placement of the Bison in relation to the “bobby sock” trees (white “socks” from exposure to the mineral rich waters in the geyser basin).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM lens; 1/4000 second at f.8; ISO 160; hand-held]

Great Gray Owl sunrise CR2 near Two Harbors MNIMG_5801

Great Gray Owl sunrise (near Two Harbors, Minnesota) March 2018

It is sometimes hard to remember to “think wider” when taking wildlife photos. Our inclination is to put on our longest telephoto lens and get a tightly-cropped portrait. But sometimes wider is better. Great Gray Owls are often scanning the skies for any sign of enemies. They seem not to care for Ravens and Bald Eagles in particular. Not sure if this one actually saw something up in the sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f5.6 L USM lens at 70mm; 1/1250 second at f.8; -1.33 ev; ISO 100; tripod]

Great Blue Heron along Stone Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_1783

Early-returning Great Blue Heron (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 16, 2018

The snowpack lasted a VERY long time last winter. My kids had to wear snowpants to school for a complete SIX MONTHS! (October 26 to April 24 or so). So this Great Blue Heron returned at its normal time, but was greeted with lots of snow and little open water. But it only takes a little patch of running water and some fish to make a living for this hardy heron. I have video of this guy catching fish from this open patch.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/320 second at f.7.1; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

meadowhawk Saffron-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum costiferum Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MNIMG_1873

Meadowhawk and Big Bluestem (Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota) August 2018

I like the pinks, purples and reds in this photo. I also like the placement of the Meadowhawk in the top right part of the frame…atop a gracefully curving stem of Big Bluestem grass.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f5.6 L USM lens at 200mm; 1/640 second at f4; ISO 100; hand-held]

Red-tailed Hawk CR7 Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_0915

Red-tailed Hawk in snowfall (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 2018

This was totally just a “grab-and-go” photo during a spring snow squall in the Sax-Zim Bog last April. It is not razor sharp but I think it works as a very “painterly” abstract photo. I like the blurred purple-red colors of the out-of-focus willows.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 450mm; 1/160 second at f.6.3; ISO 800; +1 ev; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane with colt in flowers Pine County MNIMG_1063

Sandhill Crane in wildflower meadow (Pine County, Minnesota) June 2018

Pretty bird in pretty flowers…’nuf said?

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f.5.6; ISO 640; hand-held from car]

Snowy Owl Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge Polk County MNIMG_0254

Snowy Owl on fence line (Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota) March 2018

Yes, there is an owl in this photo…Way out on the fence line. I think this photo would look really cool printed very large. A true “animal in the landscape” photo.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f.9; ISO 100; tripod]

Snowy Owl mature male on haybale CR229-29 Dart Road Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_3986

Snowy Owl on hay bale (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) December 2018

Interesting juxtaposition…an arctic bird in a rural farm landscape. But this is where they are at home in the winter. These large farm hayfields hold large number of voles…and they mimic their summer tundra home. The haybale becomes just another hummock on the tundra.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 91mm; 1/320 second at f.7.1; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swan pair Yellowstone National Park WYIMG_0558

Trumpeter Swans and tree reflections (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

It certainly is a strange photo. Normally I would never really love a photo where I am looking down on my subject, but I like the reflection of the dead pines in the water and that both swans are looking back towards the center of the frame.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM lens; 1/2500 second at f.8; ISO 200; hand-held]

American Bittern Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night FOSZB field trip Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_1460

Can you see me? Bittern (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) May 2018

American Bitterns are masters of camouflage…when they are in a brown landscape with vertical cattails, as in the photo above. They stretch out their neck allowing their vertical breast stripes to blend in with the cattails. But this camouflage doesn’t work so well when they are in the middle of a dirt road…but they stick with their technique despite the absurdity of it.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/200 second at f.5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Tundra Swan flock staging fall migration Mississippi River Brownsville Houston County MNIMG_3283

Tundra Swan congregation (Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, Brownsville, Minnesota) November 2018

xx

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/160 second at f.8; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky’s Top-Ten Bird Photos of 2018

 

Okay, I’m cheating a bit on my Top 10 and have selected an extra two photos, so here is my 12 favorite bird images from 2018.

Eastern Kingbird feeding young (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I love Felton Prairie. It is a dry gravel prairie on the “Glacial Ridge” of western Minnesota. It is (was?) known as the only nesting site of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the state. I spent about an hour with this late-nesting Eastern Kingbird family (this was mid August).

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

Barred Owl on Owl Avenue (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) April 2, 2018

This photo was taken near dusk on a lonely bog-bordered road in the Sax-Zim Bog. I like the monotone feel of the photo. I also like that the owl is NOT looking at me, but watching (listening?) intently on something out of frame.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 203mm; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 3200]

Mature male Snowy Owl on hay bale (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) December 17, 2018

The very small size and very white plumage of this Snowy Owl indicates that this is an older male bird. It has been hunting the same fields in the Sax-Zim Bog for about a month. He often perches on hay bales, scanning the countryside for voles. I like the stark contrast between the white owl and the pink sky.

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

Bohemian Waxwing in Mountain-Ash (Two Harbors, Minnesota) November 12, 2018

I’ve photographed many Bohemian Waxwings over the years, but usually in crabapple trees, so I wanted to get photos and video of one in a Mountain-Ash (a native species). I found a small flock in a huge Mountain-Ash (that I’ve looked in many times before) in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota.

I only shot video, but was able to pull this still-image out of a 4K video clip.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens

Great Gray Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) February 27, 2018

Great Grays are amazing photo subjects…even if they are just staring into the snow. I had spend over an hour just watching this one sit in an aspen…waiting for it do something…anything! Then when I wasn’t ready (of course!), it launched into the air and plunged face first into the deep ditch snow only 20 yards from me. But it didn’t catch the vole on the plunge but it could still hear it under the deep snow. I slowly crawled over to the ditch and laid flat on the snow to get this eye-level shot. The Great Gray in this photo is not really looking into the snow, but rather listening by facing its huge facial disks towards the sound. Ear holes that are a slightly different size and shape can triangulate sound in order to pinpoint prey.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held while laying flat on the snow.]

Sanderling in near-breeding plumage (Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota) May 22, 2018

Shorebirds along the sandy beaches of Lake Superior are one of my favorite subjects. Most are heading to breeding grounds on the tundra of the Far North. This makes them seem more exotic and interesting. Sanderlings are one of the most common shorebirds on the beaches of Duluth’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point.

This one is in near breeding plumage with reddish head and breast. We usually see them in their white plumage as small flocks scoot ahead of us as we walk down the beach. I crawled through the sand to get in front of the Sanderlings and then would remain still as they worked their way towards me. I like this unique head-on angle.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held while laying flat on the sand.]

Great Gray Owl in heavy snow (Duluth, Minnesota) January 30, 2018

There was a mini-irruption of Great Gray Owls just north of Duluth last winter. In fact this guy was hunting right in the city limits of Duluth along Old Superior Street. I got to film him (her?) making several plunges into the deep but crusty snow. It was able to break through the crust to get at voles below.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Male Bufflehead (St. Louis River at Fond du Lac in Duluth, Minnesota) April 23, 2018

Every year when the ice goes out on the St. Louis River I try and get some eye-level (ice-level?) shots of waterfowl in their spring splendor. The ice went out quite late this year as this photo was taken in late April. Buffleheads are really difficult to photograph because they dive frequently. And it is very hard to capture the iridescence of their head feathers. They usually look all black and white. But the sun angle was just right for this photo to reveal the rainbow iridescence.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held while laying on the shoreline ice]

Eastern Kingbird catching grasshopper in mid-air (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I honestly just got lucky with this shot. I love images of grassland birds on old fence posts or rusty barbed wire fences (both of which are disappearing from the rural landscape) so I took some photos of this Eastern Kingbird. But I decided to wait patiently

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Three immature Bald Eagles (Douglas County, Wisconsin) April 9, 2018

A perfectly-arranged trio of subadult Bald Eagles in northwest Wisconsin. It takes 3-5 years for a Bald Eagle to attain its pristine white head and tail feathers. The bottom bird is probably a 2nd year bird, and the tip bird may be a 3rd year bird due to its Osprey-like face mask. The middle bird is also probably a 3rd year bird. I’m sure there was a road-killed deer somewhere nearby.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f7.1; ISO 320; hand-held from car window]

White-faced Ibis (Yellowstone National Park) April 30, 2018

I rarely get to see these birds but they migrate through Yellowstone National Park in the spring. This one was feeding on a newly-thawed pond. The sad part of this story is that I dropped a rented 2x teleconverter out of the car while trying to get out and photograph this bird. The fall put a scratch in the lens. I then had to buy the 2x from lensrentals.com. But I guess I’m glad to own this high-end teleconverter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 IS USM lens with 1.4x teleconverter;  1/250 second at f2.8; ISO 400; hand-held]

Snowy Owl (South Superior, Wisconsin) January 5, 2018

If I’d shot this photo with a wide-angle lens, you would have seen a gravel pit, railroad tracks and car repair place in the frame. This Snowy Owl was hunting in a semi-industrial area of Superior, Wisconsin. I waded through the deep snow to reach the spruce and began filming. The owl completely ignored me, but after about 10 minutes some distant movement caught its eye and off it went. I like the wing position as it lifts off.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.66ev; hand-held]

 

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]