Posts tagged ‘migration’

GOOSE-A-PALOOZA: 4 species of geese migrating through western Minnesota

April 1-2, 2019

I took a quick trip out to the prairies of west central Minnesota to witness the amazing GOOSE MIGRATION of 2019. April 1-2. Numbers like this haven’t been seen in Minnesota in many years. In fact, Steve Millard, who has lived in west central Minnesota for 46 years says he’s never seen the migration this good!

Reasons for this more easterly path of migration this year may be that the snowpack and a frozen James River in South Dakota have forced the geese to migrate farther east. I was mainly in Stevens, Grant, Wilkin and Otter Tail Counties. Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese dominated, but also some Canada Geese and a few Ross’s Geese. Several thousand Tundra Swans (870 in one flooded field near Nashua, Minnesota!) and constant skeins of geese overhead. The sounds are probably my favorite part of the experience.

There was lots of snow along windrows and shelter belts. Most lakes were still frozen but meltwater pools dotted many fields.

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3383

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

I really love Greater White-fronted Geese, and they were one reason I made this hasty trip out west. I rarely ever get to see them in big flocks, so I was thrilled to find this amazing bunch just 0.8 miles east of the city limits of Elbow Lake, Minnesota. You can see that they are all on “high alert” but they soon relaxed and continued preening, resting and sleeping.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 320; hand-held]

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3415

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF70-200mm f4L USM lens; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3436

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 2x teleconverter; 1/640 second at f11; ISO 640; hand-held; braced on car]

skeins of geese North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3489

Multiple skeins of geese overhead near North Ottawa Impoundment (Grant County, Minnesota) on April 1, 2019.

Steve Millard, who has lived in west central Minnesota for 46 years says he’s never seen a goose migration this good before!

[Canon 7D with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; 1/800 at f8; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Harrier North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3521

Northern Harrier at North Ottawa Impoundment (Grant County, Minnesota)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev (a mistake!…leftover from previous shots); hand-held]

Tundra Swans in flooded field near Nashua MN IMG_3673

Tundra Swan flock just east of Nashua, Minnesota (Wilkin County)

870 Tundra Swans settled into this flooded field along with Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese. The sun only shone for about 10 minutes on the two days I was out there.

flock of geese and old windmill IMG_3818

Snow Goose flock and old Windmill (Wilkin County)

I saw this old windmill about the same time I saw the flock of geese feeding in a cornfield. I knew that I wanted a shot of the flock in the air with the silhouette of the windmill, so I waited, and waited, and waited. Just as I was about to give up, something spooked the flock and they obligingly took wing. It would have been great if they’d come a bit closer, but I still like the shot.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 113mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; -0.66ev; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3870

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3877

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3878

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

The three photos above were a single flock of Snow Geese that had rested the night in a flooded field. I got a few photos of them sitting (below) before they erupted in unison. The sound was amazing…deafening. They quickly settled back down.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3901

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

99.9% of the birds you see in the above photo are Snow Geese….even the ones with dark bodies. If it has a white head, it is a Snow Goose (in this photo). The white-headed, dark-bodied geese were formerly a separate species called “Blue Goose.” We now know that they are the same species as Snow Goose. The goose in the front left corner that is all dark with an orange bill, is a Greater White-fronted Goose.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

IMG_3904

Two Ross’s Geese with Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

Mixed in with the massive flocks of Snows were scattered Ross’s Geese. These are much smaller birds with a short stubby bill and greenish patch at base of bill. They lack the “grinning patch” of Snow Geese. Ross’s also have a snowy white head, as compared to Snow Geese whose heads are often stained a bit yellowish. You can see two Ross’s together here in the front middle of the photo (one facing left and one facing right). They are all heading to the High Arctic to breed.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swans North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3960

“God Light” and a pair of Trumpeter Swans (North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant County, Minnesota)

[Canon 7D with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 49mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

IMG_3978

Farm fields were mostly free of snow, but anywhere there were trees you found huge drifts of snow still.

IMG_3991

Old Bait shop in Otter Tail County, Minnesota

Abandoned Rose City Store MN IMG_3358

Abandoned Rose City General Store in Rose City, Minnesota

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Pelican Stopover in the North Woods

Every spring for the last several years, a flock of American White Pelicans has stopped over along the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota. Here they find a couple ideal loafing islands in mid river and I suppose, good fishing. Arriving in late April, they usually depart by mid May. In 2017, they showed up on April 19th and departed by mid May. They are easily visible from the Fond du Lac Bridge that joins Minnesota and Wisconsin. I imagine these flocks are headed to major breeding colonies at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, but I’m not positive.

Am White Pelicans IMG_0006647

A flock of American White Pelicans has made the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota (and nearby Wisconsin portion of the river) a spring stopover on their way to breeding grounds farther north. There are fewer than 70 breeding colonies in North America (50 in Canada, 18 in the U.S.), with 3 in Minnesota. Of course, some of these colonies are massive! They are considered a Species of Special Concern in Minnesota.

“The American white pelican formerly ranged throughout much of Minnesota, with nesting documented as far east as Aitkin County in 1904. The species declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, largely due to human persecution (Wires et al. 2005). There were no reports of nesting in the state after 1878 (Roberts 1932) until 70 nests were found at Marsh Lake in Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties in 1968. Nesting was limited to less than 10 colonies in the early 1980s, and the species was subsequently listed as special concern in 1984. In the 1990s, nesting was confirmed in several additional areas. Large numbers of non-breeding adults are also regularly seen on other Minnesota lakes throughout the summer. Although there is evidence of an increasing population in Minnesota, it might best be viewed as a recolonization of its former range (Wires et al. 2005). Colonial breeding habits and occupancy of a small number of breeding sites make white pelicans particularly vulnerable to decline, meriting special concern status. The Marsh Lake colony is the largest known colony in North America, giving it continent-wide significance (Wires et al. 2005).” [from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us]

American White Pelican flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac MN IMG_0006699

The “horn” is only grown for the breeding season…It disappears after that. [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican group with bills up St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06925

“Pelicans are big birds that can overheat when they’re out in the hot sun. They shed heat by facing away from the sun and fluttering their bill pouches—which contain many blood vessels to let body heat escape. Incubating parents may also stretch their wings wide to aid cooling.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]. I’m actually not sure if this is what is happening in this photo as at this exact moment a Ring-billed Gull flew directly over this group’s heads…Could it be an aggressive posture?

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100]

map American White Pelican North America Distribution Cornell

Range of the American White Pelican in North America [from Cornell]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06899

“Pelicans are skillful food thieves. They steal from other pelicans trying to swallow large fish and are successful about one-third of the time. They also try to steal prey from Double-crested Cormorants that are bringing fish to the surface. In their dense nesting colonies, some birds even steal the food that a parent on an adjacent nest has disgorged for its young.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 200; -1 ev]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06929

“Contrary to cartoon portrayals and common misconceptions, pelicans never carry food in their bill pouches. They use them to scoop up food but swallow their catch before flying off” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican pair St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0006630

[Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St Louis R Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_8295

Population Information:

  1. North America population estimate: 67,030 breeding pairs (1998-2001; King and Anderson 2005)
  2. Minnesota population estimate: 15,824 breeding pairs breeding at 16 different colony sites (Wires, Haws and Cuthbert 2005: The Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican in Minnesota: A Statewide Status Assessment)
  3. Minnesota has one of the largest North American colonies at Marsh Lake; over 80% of the state’s population occurs in this location

[Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/320 at f8; ISO 400]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Chamber's Grove Park Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_7024

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Chamber's Grove Park Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_7035

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0017

“American while pelicans are a monogamous species, and most likely pair each year on their breeding grounds. Adults begin breeding when three years old. They perform a variety of flying and walking courtship displays, and select a nest site within a dense colony. Colonies are mainly located on isolated islands, also occupied by gulls and cormorants. A pelican colony can consist of thousands of birds (Evans and Knopf 1993). After courtship, each pair builds a nest by scraping gravel, soil, or vegetation to form a shallow depression. The bottom of the nest may contain little or no insulation. A clutch of two eggs is common. Both males and females take turns to continuously incubate and guard the eggs until they hatch, usually about 30 days later. The young are altricial. The first chick to hatch frequently harasses the younger sibling, causing it to leave the nest early or move to an area of the nest where it is fed less often. Second chicks often die of starvation, predation, or exposure. Adults feed chicks by regurgitating food into their beak pouch, where it is made accessible to the chicks. Parents continuously brood nestlings for about 17-25 days. As parents begin leaving nests unattended, groups of chicks huddle together for warmth, forming a pod or creche. These pods may also serve as protection from predators (Evans and Knopf 1993). The young walk from the nest at about 26 days, and fly after 62-63 days. [from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0029

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0046

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0057

I am trying to find out where this Pelican was banded. This photo was taken on May 6, 2013.American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0080

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0082

Did you know that the American White Pelican has arguably the LONGEST WINGSPAN OF ANY BIRD IN NORTH AMERICA? Well, at least it’s a close competition… The California Condor is almost exactly the same wingspan…NINE FEET!

According to The Sibley Guide to Birds, here are the North American birds with WINGSPANS OVER SEVEN FEET.

  1. California Condor—109″
  2. American White Pelican—108″
  3. Greater Frigatebird—90″
  4. Whooping Crane—87″
  5. Short-tailed Albatross—87″
  6. Black-footed Albatross—84″
  7. Bald Eagle—80″
  8. Trumpeter Swan—80″
  9. Golden Eagle—79″
  10. Brown Pelican—79″
  11. Laysan Albatross—78″
  12. Sandhill Crane—77″
  13. Mute Swan—76″
  14. Great Blue Heron—72″

Some more wingspans of large North American birds…

Turkey Vulture (67″), Great Black-backed Gull (65″), Flamingo (60″), Great Gray Owl (52″)

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0095

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0106

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9939

“American White Pelicans cooperate when feeding. Sometimes, large groups gather in wetlands. They coordinate their swimming to drive schooling fish toward the shallows. The pelicans can then easily scoop up these corralled fish from the water.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9999

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelicans St. Louis River Fond du Lac MN IMG_0006664

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f9; ISO 200]

Attracting Hawks with a Feather Duster

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

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7620

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mega Warbler Fallout!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnolia Warbler female Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002257Magnolia Warbler female.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iowa Prairie Monarchs…from 4 inches away!


I really have a passion for “wide angle wildlife”…which can be a challenge with critters…most of which would rather be a long ways away from us stinky, scary humans. And, of course, to get the bird, mammal, reptile or butterfly a respectable size in the frame, and not just an indistinguishable dot, you have to GET CLOSE!

So, on September 6th I found myself taking a detour off the highway near Lime Springs, Iowa to check out Hayden Prairie State Reserve. It is a 242 acre parcel of tallgrass prairie..and sadly the largest tract in the state outside of the Loess Hills. The prairie honors Ada Hayden, an Iowa farm girl who became one of the first woman botany professors in the country, receiving her PhD in 1918.

I had a few hours to shoot before sunset and I noticed many Monarchs feeding on the sunflowers and goldenrods. But getting close to the Monarchs was not easy…First I tried just walking up to nectaring Monarchs on the head-height sunflowers…but they didn’t appreciate that. Then I discovered a patch of goldenrods where the nectar must be especially good and abundant. The butterflies were a bit more tolerant here. And as anyone who’s shot a lot of wildlife knows, every individual has a different comfort zone. So I just kept trying to find a mellow Monarch.

The image I had in my head was getting the Monarch large in the frame, shooting into the sun so the sky was dark and the sun would be a starburst. Backlit subjects can make for tricky exposures. I knew I had to shoot at high-speed sync in order for the butterfly and sky to be in the same exposure range. I’d pre-set my camera on manual exposure to f22 at 1/1250 and my Canon flash was set to high-speed sync. Then I autofocused on my hand at 4 to 6 inches and then turned off the lens autofocus. The technique was to crawl as close as I could to the Monarch, then extend my arm with the camera and start shooting…keeping my finger on the shutter button as I reached out towards the butterfly. It was low percentage shooting but lots of fun. My knees paid the price though.

The photos here are images you could not get with a telephoto lens…Note the extreme depth of field in the shots.


Crawling through tallgrass prairie can be tough on the knees…and jeans!
The Monarchs were starting their migration south to Mexico’s Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve where they would overwinter. As any school kid knows, this migration is one of the most amazing in the animal kingdom…A fragile butterfly flying several thousand miles south to the mountains of Central Mexico where this species has likely overwintered for thousands of years. Even more amazing may be the fact that it is a different generation of Monarchs that returns to the north each spring. You can actually track the Monarch’s southward flight on the internet. Check out Journey North’s Monarch Migration map here to check on their southward flight.
To get the “starburst” sun you need to be shooting at f16 or smaller aperture.

Baptisia leucantha Largeleaf Wild Indigo or White Wild Indigo, a unique tallgrass prairie plant. Note the crazy large seed pods.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20mm lens (between 10mm and 16mm) at f22, ISO 400, 1/1250 second, Canon 420ex flash set to high-speed sync at -2EV]