Posts tagged ‘hunting’

Early Spring in Yellowstone 1—April 16-19, 2016

rental car hit deer ND IMG_3698 (1)
Ryan Marshik and I decided to make a break for Yellowstone…We’ve been there many times…in May, September, October…but never April. We timed it so we’d arrive the day after some of the roads opened up for spring traffic. During winter, only the road from Gardiner, MT through Mammoth, to Cooke City is open. Now, on April 15, the roads to West Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (Artist’s Point, Lower and Upper Falls) would be open. Granted, one of our favorite routes up the Hayden Valley remained closed, but we could live with that.
So we packed up and left Duluth at 3pm sharp (actually 2:50pm) because we knew we’d arrive 16 hours later at the North Entrance at Gardiner, MT at dawn, ready to shoot. No daylight wasted! Of course, we’d be exhausted, but our modus operandi is to shoot until noon, find a campsite, set up our tents, and take a 2 hour nap, then shoot until dark.
Unfortunately, a kamikaze Mule Deer nearly ruined our perfect plan. Sometime after midnight in western North Dakota a Muley ran out on to I-94, paused and then bolted again, having a fatal encounter with a mid-sized SUV going about 60mph (we’d been doing 80, but slowed a bit before hitting her). Lots of front quarter panel damage, broken headlight covers, high beams taken out, but it was drivable. Thankfully Minnesota law states that all residents renting a vehicle are covered with their own insurance, avoiding the need to purchase rental car agency pricey insurance.

So, we made it just fine, Ryan was even able to bend the bottom of the door a bit so it wouldn’t make a horrible grating sound every time we opened it (and thereby scaring any nearby wildlife). Though a bit cold and windy, it turned out to be a fantastic wildlife-laden trip. I will have 4 blog posts about this trip..Yellowstone 2, Bighorns, Teddy Roosevelt (our usual overnight stop on the way home to Duluth). Enjoy!

Coyote Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4652 (1)Leaping for Lunch
While there was no snow in the Mammoth area (including our campground), as soon as you got above a certain elevation, there was plenty. Several cars were pulled over along the road to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and we soon saw why…A very oblivious Coyote, going about its search for voles under the snow. I didn’t have time to get my tripod out, but managed to snap a series of shots handheld. He leaped high but was unable to break through the crust of this wind-packed snow. We watched him (her?) for another hour or so and he caught at least 3 voles.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 227mm; f7.1 at 1/4000 second; ISO 200; handheld (no time to get my tripod out!)]

Yellowstone landscape IMG_5834 (1)Mountain Vista Yellowstone
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 100mm; f8 at 1/200 second; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky Yellowstone IMG_5387 (1)Sparky scanning for….Anything!

Red Fox Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5554 (1)Red Fox Hunting
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f7.1 at 1/1000 second; ISO 100; -0.33ev; handheld]

Red Fox Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5536 (1)Red Fox with Vole
We got to watch this “famous” Red Fox hunt near the Yellowstone Picnic Area for over an hour. She’s been a regular here for a couple years. I guess she even lost some of last year’s pups (or kits or cubs…all equally correct names for baby fox) to a marauding Badger. She was sleeping when we got to the picnic area (only alerted to her presence by local photographer Steve Hinch…Thanks Steve!). Eventually she hopped up and started hunting,paying no mind to the growing long-lens laden crowd. Here she is about to end the brief life of an oh-so-cute Meadow Vole, the staple food of many North American predators.

Red Fox and Bison Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5509 (2)Buddies? Not Really
My 5-year old son, Bjorn, had me print this photo so he could take it to school and show his music teacher. Perplexed, I asked, “Why?” He told me that they were learning a song about “unlikely animal buddies.” How cute is that!

Mountain Bluebird female Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5440 (1)Lady Mountain Bluebird
This was just a “grab and go” shot out the window of the car, but when I got home and saw it on the screen, I liked it! Not as gaudy as the males, the females still have their own beauty.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/1250 second; ISO 320; -0.67ev; handheld, braced on car door window frame]

Mountain Bluebird Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4466 (1)Bluebird tipped Sage
Whoever came up with the saying that the bluebird “carries the sky on its back” must have been talking about the Mountain Bluebird, as our Eastern Bluebird back home in Minnesota, is a much darker blue. I think the Mountain Bluebirds had just returned to the Yellowstone area and insects at this time of year are a bit scarce.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/2000 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Mountain Bluebird Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4505 (1)Blue Sky Bluebird
I stalked this foraging Mountain Bluebird along the Old Yellowstone Road. He was busy moving from perch to perch, nabbing insects on the ground. After about 10 minutes, he landed on this rock and I laid down on the prickly and dung-covered ground (mostly dried elk dung) so I could shoot up and get the blue sky as the background. It would have been a bit better shot if he was facing away and looking over his shoulder at me, but I’ll take it.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/2500 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Coyote Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5708 (1)Coyote on the Run
It’s funny…every Coyote we see in Yellowstone seems to have its own personality. Some head for the hills when they see a human; some are methodical and slow listen-and-leap hunters; and some, like this little girl (who knows?) are speed hunters! She hunted while moving at a veritable sprint…more of a fast trot. But the technique worked, and we saw her catch 3 voles in the three miles or so that we followed her. And she often hunted right along the main park road. I panned at 1/40 of a second and picked this image as the best of the series…the eye is very sharp! But the composition is a bit tight on the bottom.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f14 at 1/40 second; ISO 100; panning handheld (a bit slow and therefore riskier panning shot…better might have been 1/60 second)]

Coyote Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5688 (1)Yellow-line Coyote
Same “Speedy Gonzalez” Coyote as I talked about in the photo above. I laid down in the middle of the road to get this “below-eye-level” shot. A unique perspective but not a great shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/500 second; ISO 160; handheld while laying on ground]

Mule Deer rim light IMG_4266 (1)The Rock has Ears!
Mule Deer backlit on the “American Serengeti” of Yellowstone National Park.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/640 second; ISO 160; -1ev; tripod]

 

….More to come! Three more blog posts about this trip coming (Yellowstone 2, Bighorns, Teddy Roosevelt)

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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.

Christmas Coyote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boreal Owl Bonanza!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalked and Charged by a Coyote in Yellowstone!

This was my last image before the Coyote rushed me. It is obvious from his intense eyes and forward-focusing ears that I was his prey.

I’ve never been attacked by mammal when in the field shooting…sure I’ve been dive-bombed by Skuas in Iceland, terns in Alaska and MN but never charged. Ryan spotted this Coyote first…It was crossing Slough Creek and never once looked at us. I decided to lay up against the river bank to see if he’d come out of the woods near me. Ryan went east to see if he could cut him off in the meadow. A few minutes later here comes the Coyote, only 50 feet away and slowly stalking something. But he was staring at me. I didn’t put 2 and 2 together that THE COYOTE WAS STALKING ME! I took video until he got within 30 feet or so. I then switched to taking stills. I got off 2 or 3 shots and then I stuck my head behind the camera again to check the LCD and when I looked around my camera a second later the Coyote was in my face! His head was above mine and he was only six feet away. I jumped up and started yelling at him…He sauntered off…He did not run…I finally found a rock and chucked it at him. He kept going. No time for fear until it was all done. My heart was beating! The Coyote had covered the last 25 feet is a split second…If I was a rabbit I wouldn’t have had a chance.
Watch the video and “reenactment” below

Coyote canine teeth are large and efficient killing tools…And I nearly got to experience them.

It’s a pretty unique photo…But little did I know he would be hunting me very soon.

We let a nearby campground host if he’d heard any strange Coyote stories lately…He laughed and said, “About an hour ago a couple in the campground were approached by a Coyote that just walked up to them to within 3 feet!…Not stalking just like it was begging.” We later found out that a woman had been bitten pretty badly by a Coyote a week previous in another part of the park. I don’t think this guy had rabies…eyes were clear, fur nice and thick, no foaming mouth…but this behavior is a bit unnerving. Anyway, a ranger was dispatched to the area to check it out…but we never did hear what happened to the Coyote of Slough Creek.

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.