Posts tagged ‘north woods’

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]

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Gray Foxes from 20 Feet! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3716Twenty years ago, the Gray Fox was rarely seen in the North Woods of Minnesota. But they have now arrived! This is the second and third Gray Fox I have photographed in the Sax-Zim Bog in the last year. The first one I photographed was along the Creek Road in summer of 2013. I had seen something cross the road up ahead, and I thought it might have been a Pine Marten. I stopped the van, got out and gave a few calls on my predator mouth call. Within seconds, a Gray Fox burst out of the woods, looking, presumably, for the source of the call. I got a decent shot, but I was not really prepared. The first proof I had of a Gray Fox in the Sax-Zim Bog was one I “caught” one on my Trail Camera in the winter of 2011-12, very near where these two were photographed.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3770I first became aware that the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center feeders were being visited by this rare animal back in December. I found some scat that I couldn’t immediately identify. It was canid-like, but composed of sunflower seed shells and rodent hair. The only winter mammal I know that eats both is the Gray Fox.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3647Then in early February, some visitors got glimpses of a Gray Fox towards dusk. My friend Jason Mandich even managed to photograph one. The next day, our Welcome Center host, Heather-Marie, discovered that there were TWO Gray Fox coming to the feeders. The next afternoon, I was there…Ready and waiting…INSIDE the Welcome Center.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3703Then before 3pm, one arrived! …and then a second! Must be a mated pair as they seemed to get along quite well, feeding under the same feeder for quite a while. We barely breathed as we stood inside the Welcome Center. Then one headed our way, making its path for the feeder closest to the building. I shot through the windows of the Welcome Center, crouching down so I could shoot eye-level to the small fox.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3717FUN GRAY FOX FACTS: These very small canids are about two feet long, plus the 12 to 15 inch long bushy tail. Adults weigh from 8 to 14 pounds…the weight of a large house cat! They are found across the southern and eastern U.S. and south through Mexico, Central America to Columbia and Venezuela in South America.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3755A fox that can climb trees? Yes, the Gray Fox is very adept at climbing tree trunks, either for food or safety.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3751What do they eat? Well, we’ve established that they will eat sunflower seeds (Note this guy’s got a shell on his face). My friend Karl Bardon recently watched on eat for over an hour at his feeder. The scat I found at the Welcome Center is filled with sunflower seed shells and rodent hair. They are also reported to eat Cottontails, newly-dropped White-tailed Deer fawns, mice, voles, fruit and insects.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3710The MN DNR website says that “breeding occurs in late winter, and gestation (time required for the young to develop) is about two months. Litter size averages four, and the young stay with their mother until autumn. Red and Gray Fox do not cross-breed in the wild.”

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3700

[ALL IMAGES SHOT THROUGH WINDOW GLASS! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t shoot great wildlife shots through your windows. But you need to remember a few things:
1. Make sure your windows are clean! No smudgy kid finger and hand smears. Glass cleaner and crumpled newspaper works great.
2. Shoot straight through the glass…Make sure your lens is perpendicular to the glass. Shooting at an angle through windows often results in lower image quality.
3. Pray your subject is in good light…full morning or late afternoon sun, or high overcast. Deep shade reduces contrast and sun-dappled light makes for difficult exposures.

[all with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Most at ISO 400, f5.6 at 1/640 second, AI Servo AutoFocus mode (to track the moving subjects).]

Grand Slam of the Giant Silkworm Moths!

Last year I got the “Trifecta of Mega Moths” …Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna; But this year I added the Promethea to get the GRAND SLAM!
All were photographed between my house and garage. My technique is simple…Leave the garage light on all night then go out in the morning and try (emphasize the word “try”) to move them gently to a more photogenic perch. You have to go out very early (5:30 to 6:30 am) before they warm up and fly off.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6573CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia) The genus is named after Cecrops I, the mythical first king of Athens, and it is certainly the KING of North American moths…It is one of the showiest and largest with a wingspan approaching 6 inches. Caterpillars are especially fond of maple leaves but also feed on tamarack, spruce, birch and cherry. Sparse population in the “wild” as there may only be a couple adults in a square mile of forest, BUT some residential populations can be quite dense. Males may FLY 20 MILES (!) over several nights, and mate with several females.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6580CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia)

Luna Moth Actias luna Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7524LUNA MOTH (Actias luna) Luna the Goddess, was the ancient Roman divine personification of the Moon. Caterpillars much prefer the Paper Birch leaves in the north woods. This is my best Luna photo in a long while…Unfortunately it is on the T-111 siding on my garage. When I tried to move it, it started its flopping-Arching defense and escaped.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7544PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7537PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea) Prometheus, a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gifts humanity with fire” (Wikipedia). Adults live for a week and may fly 20 miles in that time period. This is a female but the darker male is day-flying and may mimic the unpalatable swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillars feed on black cherry, ash and perhaps, lilac.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7529PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7850POLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus) Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. And a semi-appropriate name as this huge moth shows one striking “eye” on each hindwing. The thought is that bird predators will attach the false eyes on the hindwings and do little damage to the moth itself. Caterpillars feed on birch, maple, willow and oak.

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7855 copyPOLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus)The “face” of a Polyphemus when viewed at close range…complete with eyebrows!

HOME MOTH PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
1. Leave a garage/exterior house light on overnight (but don’t overdo it…leave the light off for a couple of nights between sessions, otherwise Gray Treefrogs, squirrels and birds will feast on your moths at dawn)
2. Go out early and see what the light brought in. Get outside between 5:30 and 6:30am before the moths warm up and start flying away.
3. Take “record” shots of moths perched on your garage or house siding, or porch. Then try to move them to better perches using native plants, trees. I slowly slip a flat piece of wood (about the size of a shim) under the moth until it clings to it. Then I move to my backdrop of choice and ease them onto that.
4. I have my flash and basic exposure set already…You can use a pop-up flash or hot-shoe flash, but you really should use some flash to make your subject pop.
5. I like to set a manual exposure that keeps my shutter at between 1/160 and 1/250 when using the pop-up flash (which synchs at 1/250 max). Sometimes, for larger moths, I can use my hot shoe flash set to Hi-speed synch to get higher shutter speeds. Remember, much of your shooting will be early in the morning and you may have to crank up the ISO to get these shutter speeds.
6. Now here is the part that has really improved my moth/insect shots..I switch the camera to live view and manual focus. Now when I see my favored composition in the viewfinder, I magnify the live view to 5x power. I now simply move my body/hands/camera in and out until the key part of the subject is razor-sharp in the live view viewfinder and click the shutter. I guarantee this technique will improve your moth and insect images!

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Tamron f2 100mm macro lens (all images used manual focus). All handheld…Many taken at ISO 1600 or higher!]