Posts tagged ‘Mississippi River’

2021 “Top Ten” #5 Bird Behavior

“Is this just another category so you can show more bird photos Sparky?” Why, yes, yes it is! And just so you know…I do include flying as a behavior for some reason. I guess technically everything a bird does is “behavior,” so I’m good!

Bald Eagle and Goldeneyes; February; Mississippi River

I can feel my frozen finger tips by just looking at this photo. So COLD! Most of the Mississippi River was frozen at this point in February; only spots below locks and dams were open…and this spring-fed spot near Buffalo, Wisconsin. Though it appears this young Bald Eagle is preying on the Common Goldeneyes, it is actually plucking small fish from just below the surface. There were several eagles and they made multiple passes each. I just laid down on the snow with my Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens and started tracking them as they approached. The R5 did amazingly well, even in the well-below-zero-F temps. I like the monochromatic blue cast to this image.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Green Heron; October; Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

The critical moment. It has always been a thing of wonder to watch birds of all types landing on perches. Can you imagine the vision and motor skills this takes? How about a Great Gray Owl alighting on the tip top of a tiny spruce? It can’t even see the bough when it actally lands! This Green Heron made a perfect two-point landing I am proud to report.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 640; 0 ev; handheld]

American Avocets; May; Prairie Potholes of North Dakota

Courtship in American Avocets is highly stylized. This water-thrashing by the male is performed immediately before he mounts the female. The only way I was able to get this behavior shot from such close range was because I was invisible! My floating blind hides the human form which is what alarms much wildlife.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 100; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Not a great photo but kind of fun with all the “bird bickering” going on. This, of course, is common behavior at bird feeders. Evening Grosbeaks are some of the feistiest! Sax-Zim Bog is the best place to find big flocks in winter.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 2000; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Hooded Oriole; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

It is not only Carpenter Bees (in background) that find the blossoms of agaves irresistable! Hooded Orioles also make a beeline for the blooms where they can feast on nectar.

I waited a couple hours to get this shot. I chose a single blooming agave that was at or below eye level (most others were higher up so it would be a less interesting angle with a blah sky background). A few female Hoodeds came in but I really wanted a male. But I kind of blew it with the autofocus as it locked on the flower and not the bird (so don’t blow this photo up too much!).

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Wilson’s Phalarope preening; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Preening takes up a lot of a bird’s resting time. You’ve got to keep those feathers nice and aligned! The floating blind again worked its magic on this prairie pothole lake in North Dakota as I was able to approach this Wilson’s Phalarope closely…Not unnoticed, of course, it knew a big floating blob was only 10 yards away, but rather completely ignored. It didn’t care that the blob was close since it was not a human- or prey-shaped form.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Snow Geese and moon; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

In recent years massive numbers of geese have migrated through western Minnesota in spring. Part of this is due to the creation of the huge North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County. It is part of a multi-county watershed project that has benefited wildlife immensely.

I noticed the moon and intentionally shot straight up as flock after flock of Snow Geese headed north overhead.

In hindsight I should have shot with a MUCH smaller aperture to make the moon sharper in the image. After all I was only at ISO 200 and I could have got a clean image up to ISO 5000 or higher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1250 second at f5; ISO 200; 0 ev; handheld]

Wild Turkey courtship; May; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Human and Wild Turkey courtship have a few similarities: Males strutting their stuff to impress the ladies! The backlit feathers in early-morning light really make this shot.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 320; -2.0 ev; tripod]

American Avocets mating; May; central North Dakota

Prairie potholes aren’t just for ducks! Shorebirds benefit greatly as well. American Avocets mating in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

This Western Grebe is not just getting a drink; it is actually performing part of its courtship ritual. “Dip-shaking” is when one grebe faces another, extends its neck and dips its head in the water, lifting it slowly, water dripping from its open mouth. This behavior occurs just before “rushing,” in which both birds race across the water in a vertical position. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Black-throated Hummingbird and Agave; Box Canyon; Southeast Arizona

Ready for take-off! Black-throated Hummingbird showing its true colors (Shouldn’t they be called “Magenta-throated Hummingbirds??)

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; +0.33 ev; handheld but braced on car door frame]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I simply like the vibrant colors (and blurred wings) of this Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers in Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Black Tern; May; Stutsman County, North Dakota

Black Tern cruising over a prairie marsh in North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Arrowwood NWR, North Dakota

Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds showing off his white epaulets during his courtship song. Interestingly, Yellow-heads are dominant over Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/3200 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 ev; handheld]

American Avocet courtship; May; North Dakota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 400; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Northern Shoveler; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

Birds MUST preen their feathers in order to keep them in top shape. Preening aligns and locks the barbules on each feather. It also cleans the feathers and removes parasites. They also rub a waterproof substance from a body gland on the feathers to keep them from soaking through.

This Northern Shoveler was so busy preening that it paid my floating blind no attention at all.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Ice Eagles: Bald Eagles fishing a frozen Mississippi River: Canon R5 Wildlife Photography Shooting with Sparky

During the icy grip of the February 2021 Polar Vortex cold snap, Sparky travels to the mostly frozen Mississippi River of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin to photograph Bald Eagles fishing open spots close to shore. He also looks for Golden Eagles inland in Houston and Winona Counties in Minnesota.

Bitter windchills means frozen toes and fingers, but the Canon R5 does an amazing job of autofocus while shooting super slow motion (4K 120fps) video of the eagles.

A trip to Old Frontenac Cemetery nets Sparky’s first photos and videos of Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota.

The trip ends at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg Wisconsin where an unexpected Gray Fox and Red Fox make a dusk appearance.

Colossal Wildflowers of the Mississippi River backwaters: Part 1—Houston County, MN

July 20, 2020

When the description of a wildflower uses feet instead of inches, you know you have a colossal plant! And at this one spot on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota I found 3 stands of blossoming behemoths! Where am I? The Amazon?

Backwaters of the Mississippi River above the Reno, Minnesota dike (Reno Landing)

I was meandering back from Iowa where I had dropped off the boys for a week of “Nana Camp” at Bridget’s mom’s. The night before I camped at Minnesota’s Beaver Creek Valley State Park. It is in Houston County which is the southeasternmost county in the state. This is in the “driftless” region, an area that was missed by all of the last glaciers of the Ice Age and retains its high hills, meandering creeks, coulees and valleys. It is an area pockmarked with limestone caves in the karst topography. The hardwood forests have more in common with the southern midwest than the rest of Minnesota. As a result there is a plethora of unique species to Minnesota in this region.

I stopped at the Reno Landing on the Mississippi River to explore the dike and look for Minnesota’s rarest lizard (future blogpost!) when I noticed my first “mega-flower.”

The massive size of the flower is hard to comprehend without something to compare it to. But unfortunately I didn’t have my kayak with so I couldn’t get near the flowers.

It was the huge blossom of the American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea). The flower itself can be as big as your head (4 to 8 inches across) and the leaves dwarf the flowers at one to two feet across!

At first I wasn’t even sure this was a native plant, but a quick check of my Minnesota Wildflowers app on my iPhone confirmed that it is indeed Minnesota’s largest native wildflower. This was Lifer Number 1 (a species I had never seen in my life before).

The American Lotus is only found along backwaters of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and a few inland lakes (Lake Minnetonka) in Minnesota. And their populations seem to be ephemeral, and not blooming every year.

I wish I would have brought my kayak to actually get up close and personal with these aquatic mammoths. Next summer!

I then spotted a flower I had never seen before. Lifer Number 2. I didn’t even know where to start looking in my Peterson Field Guide nor my iPhone app to identify this monster. It emerged in a cluster from the backwaters to a height of three feet. Atop a stalk was a showy umbell of stunning magenta blossoms with 6 petals (or was it 3 sepals and 3 petals?) maybe half a foot across.

Blossoms of Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus) are held in an umbel of stalks.

Once I got home, my copy of Field Guide to Wisconsin Streams came to the rescue; the plant was Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a non-native species that is in the Flowering-Rush family (Butomaceae)

Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)
Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Then on the way out I spotted a huge and robust stand of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Hundreds of purple-blossomed spikes stood a couple feet above the dense tangle of large arrowhead-shaped leaves.

Dense stand of the large and robust Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
The spike of blossoms of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

In the next post I will show a few photos of the lizard I found at this site.

The Barred of Aitkin County & the End of Winter?

Mississippi River and bridge at Palisade MN Aitkin Co MN IMG_1479Mississippi River at Palisade, Minnesota.
With temperatures predicted to be in the 50s (!) on Monday March 7th, I decided to take a cruise around Carlton and Aitkin Counties and see what I could find. The woods were still covered in snow, but the fields were pretty bare. I also included photos from March 11, 12 and 13 here. [UPDATE 3-14: We may be getting 2 to 7 inches of snow this week! Maybe the “End of Winter” title was a bit premature!]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1489Barred Owl about to pounce.
While cruising an Aitkin County bog for Great Gray Owls, I found this very focused Barred Owl. It was about to pounce on an unseen mice or vole along the road ditch.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 second at f5.6, ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1493
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 second at f5.6, ISO 800; handheld]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1504Barred Owl in golden light.
The Barred did indeed pounce, but alas, came up empty-taloned. No meal for this guy/gal this morning. Normally nocturnal, the Barred Owl will hunt in the daylight when very hungry…and at this time of winter, many northern critters can be fighting hunger.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6, ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

IMG_1560Horned Larks [Aitkin County]
One of the first spring migrants in northern Minnesota is the early-nesting Horned Lark. Often showing up in late February or early March they are usually the first songbird migrants. Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles, Killdeer, American Kestrels, Canada Geese are other early movers in the Northland. Horned Larks nest in farm fields and short grass pastures.

IMG_1679Trumpeter Swans
A flock of 18 Trumpeter Swans rest in a central Minnesota field recently bare of snow.

Canada Goose pair Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1693

Canada Goose pair Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1697Canada Goose
Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin is a major staging area for Sandhill Cranes in spring and fall (April and October) so I thought with the early spring that maybe, possibly some may have returned. But no. The only migrants amongst the completely frozen marshes was this Canada Goose and about 30 or 40 Trumpeter Swans, some of whom had already paired up and staked out nests.

Allocapnia Winter Stonefly St. Croix River at WI 35 WI IMG_1729Winter Stonefly
On warm March days, the Winter Stoneflies (Allocapnia species) often emerge from cold, clean fast flowing creeks and rivers. They are flightless and forage atop the snow for bits of algae.

IMG_1767High Falls of the Black River [Douglas County, Wisconsin]
A hidden gem in northwest Wisconsin…and only a dozen miles or so from our house. The Black River tumbles for 165 vertical feet over Big Manitou Falls forming the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. It is in Pattison State Park.

Rough-legged Hawk light morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1838Rough-legged Hawk, light morph [Carlton County, MN]

Rough-legged Hawk dark morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1867Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph [Carlton County, MN]

Rough-legged Hawk dark morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1876Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph [Carlton County, MN]
March 11th was a GORGEOUS spring day and the raptors were on the move north! I tallied 1 American Kestrel, 1 Merlin, 3 Northern Harriers, 7 Bald Eagles (2 immatures and 5 adults) and 6 Rough-legged Hawks including this light morph and dark morph birds. The Rough-legs are heading back to breed in the Arctic of northern Canada.

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1934Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1939Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1926Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]
We’ve had Wild Turkeys at our bird feeders for a number of years now…and every mid March the Tom’s start strutting their stuff. On March 10 and 11 I saw a Tom half puff up his feathers, but no full blown display..until the morning of March 12 when I took the three photos above. It is fun to watch them slowly erect their feathers when they notice a hen nearby, and then slowly strut and turn to show off their iridescent feathers and bright red wattle.

Northern Harrier with vole CR229 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2020Northern Harrier with Vole [Sax-Zim Bog, MN]
Northern Harriers are back in town. These raptors are one of the earliest to return to the Sax-Zim Bog in NE Minnesota. They float over hayfields, marshes and meadows searching for mice and voles. This female has caught one. Males are a very striking white, gray and black. They were formerly called “Marsh Hawks.”

Bohemian Waxwing Wrenshall City Park crabapples Wrenshall MN IMG_1973Bohemian Waxwing [Wrenshall, MN]
One of our winter visitors from the Canadian North, the Bohemian Waxwing will soon be heading out of the area. A flock of 7 to 30 have been hanging out in my town’s city park for the last week, feasting and fueling up on crabapples.

Bohemian Waxwing Wrenshall City Park crabapples Wrenshall MN IMG_2010Bohemian Waxwing [Wrenshall, MN]
With a blah gray sky as a background, I tried to make the photo more interesting by turning it into a “high key” image. I blew out the whites so it would almost look like the bird has been clipped from the background.

 

Subzero Swans: Shooting with Sparky video

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480
Heading north from my parent’s home I decided to stop by Monticello, Minnesota to photograph Trumpeter Swans wintering on the Mississippi River. Tucked into a suburban neighborhood on a cul-de-sac is a tiny lot-sized city park. Hundreds of swans winter here. The attractions for the swans are the Mississippi kept open by the discharge of a nuclear power plant and cracked corn. Sheila the Swan Lady began feeding a handful of swans years ago…and word got around the swan world. Now over 1500 Trumpeters winter here! Sheila has passed away, but her husband carries on, scattering hundreds of pounds of corn each day. Please put a few bucks in the donation box at the park to help support this feeding project.

It was cold…zero degrees…and I was plenty early, 45 minutes before sunrise. While dancing around to keep my feet warm, I set up my heavy tripod and got to work. You must stay behind a split rail fence so you are forced to shoot down on the subjects. Not the best angle. Eye level almost always gives animal images more impact. But occasionally swans will fly in at eye level. As the morning progresses, there is behavior and birds everywhere…a swan battle here, wing-flapping there, a flock of Goldeneyes rocketing past, a Bald Eagle overhead, a lamentation of swans flying in (yes…lamentation!). It is hard to swing the tripod head around fast enough to catch all the action.

Trumpeter Swan battle Monticello MN IMG_0073397

As the sun rose the light turned the river steam a very nice gold, silhouetting swans and trees. Several small flocks were flying by. I set Shutter Priority to 1/60 of a second and panned at as they flew past. I’ve had great luck with this on previous trips. But today I preferred my 1/1000 of a second motion-stopping images…Swan feathers translucent and back lit against the blue river.

Trumpeter Swans 2 flying backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073469

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073476

The noise…hundreds of Trumpeters trumpeting…has to be experienced to be believed. It is the highlight of any visit. And to me personally, the whole experience is unbelievable. I never would have believed this day would come. When I was in high school in the late 70s/early 80s, Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from Minnesota, which had not had a breeding pair since 1885. I remember seeing some captive Trumpeters at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Then the MN DNR and began a reintroduction program, bringing in eggs from South Dakota, Montana and Alaska. In 1987, 21 2-year old swans were released at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County. Today, the Minnesota population is over 2400 swans. An amazing success story.

More and more swans arrived, flying in towards the feeding area. But by now the light was getting “hot” and their white sunlit feathers were blowing out. The histogram was clipped on the white side. Not good. I packed up the gear and just enjoyed the cacophony of trumpeting Trumpeter Swans before heading home. Like they say, or if they don’t say it somebody should, “Any day shooting is better than a day in the office.”

Tips for shooting swans
1. Get there early! White swans in sunlight equals difficult exposures. Feathers tend to blow out to detailless white. I would even suggest getting there 30 minutes before sunrise. Any “steam” on the water may light up to a beautiful yellow-orange when the sun first peeks over the horizon.
2. Choose a lens that will bring the action closer but leave enough breathing room around the bird so sudden wing-stretching or flapping or fights will not leave part of a wing out of the frame. A 400mm on a crop-sensor camera works well as would a 500mm on a full-frame camera. But even a 300mm lens can yield very nice images. I also like to use my 70-200mm for some “bird in landscape” shots.
3. To stop the action, set your camera to Shutter Priority 1/1000 of a second and your ISO to Auto (if you have this feature).
4. Experiment! Pan with swimming birds as well as flying birds…1/80 to 1/60 second work best. Try some fill flash. Zoom. Use a wide angle lens for an “animal in the landscape” shot.

Trumpeter Swans flying blur panning Monticello MN IMG_0073429

Resources:
Trumpeter Swans at Monticello, Minnesota: Hundreds of Trumpeters, Canada Geese and ducks winter along the Mississippi River in Monticello, Minnesota. A tiny city park buried in a suburban neighborhood is access to the swans. Visit http://www.MonticelloChamber.com for more info and a downloadable pdf brochure.

Trumpeter Swan checking on young one Monticello MN IMG_0073411

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.
Flight shots taken at 1/1000 second on Shutter Priority with auto ISO

Mallard albino Monticello MN IMG_0073451Leucistic Mallard blends in well with the white adult Trumpeters and gray and white juveniles.