Posts tagged ‘Sharp-tailed Grouse’

Northwest Minnesota—Part 1: Agassiz & Thief Lake WMAs, June 12-13, 2016

My first stop on this mid June excursion was Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in far northwest Minnesota. It was a gloomy, windy, rainy day in the aspen parklands but I had to make the most of a photographically-poor situation. Down a side road on the refuge I found a spot where Forster’s Terns were making pass after pass above a flooded creek/drainage ditch. At first I simply cranked up the ISO and took many shots to freeze these elegant birds in flight. But the gray skies got grayer, and the gloom got gloomier, so I altered my technique; now I switched to Shutter Priority mode and attempted to get some slow panning shots. My favorite Forster’s photos are below.

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_9943Forster’s Tern diving for fish in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I used Manual exposure setting as I wanted the image exposed properly for the white bird. And since the background was changing as the bird flew (from light sky to dark green leaves) I couldn’t trust Aperture Priority to get the right exposure.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; panning hand-held]

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_0497Forster’s Tern in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I desaturated the background in Aperture for a more dramatic look.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 second at f8; ISO 100; panning hand-held]

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_0131
EIGHT small fish in ONE DIVE! An amazing feat to accomplish in a head-first plunge that lasts one second max. There must have been very tight schools of fish to be so successful.

pelican IMG_0571American White Pelican at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.

van and tent IMG_3428Camping at Thief Lake WMA (My late great Honda Odyssey that lost in a battle with a rogue White-tailed Deer just weeks later)

Thief Lake WMA landscape IMG_0762Dawn at Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota.
I love this place in late spring/early summer. It is secluded, has tons of bird life, and a very cool “observation mound” from which you can scan the ginormous cattail marsh.

Red-winged Blackbird IMG_0708Red-winged Blackbird at Thief Lake WMA.

Thief Lake WMA observation mound IMG_3430Observation Mound at Thief Lake WMA.
[iPhone panorama]

Black Tern and cattail reflection IMG_1105Black Tern and cattail reflections.
This photo was a real surprise success..and I didn’t realize it until I got home and viewed it on the iMac. I really like the odd “M.C Esher-esque” juxtaposition of the bird and the “upside down” cattails (reflection). It was also a very pleasant surprise that the Black Tern’s wings mimicked the angle of the cattails without overlapping with them.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

ducks and reeds b&w IMG_1103Ducks flying across Thief Lake WMA.
This image was just begging to be converted to black-and-white; the strong shape elements of the graceful reeds and silhouetted ducks don’t need color to enhance.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Franklin's Gull Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1069Franklin’s Gull in flight over Thief Lake WMA.
My number one goal on this leg of the trip was to photograph what I consider to be one of the most beautiful gulls in North America…the Franklin’s Gull. I love the mat black head, white eye-ring and blood red bill. And the fact that they are not a gull I see that often makes them even more special.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held (for birds in flight, especially overhead, you almost HAVE to hand-hold your camera…a tripod restricts your movement too much]

Franklin's Gull Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1199Franklin’s Gull catching flying insect on the wing.
Flocks of Franklin’s Gulls forage in neighboring farm fields during the day. This flock was making repeated flights to catch aerial insects. I did not notice the bug until I got home and viewed this image large. I used Shutter Priority in order to make sure I froze the motion of the flying birds (though, this image is a bit soft due to movement so I should have used 1/2000 or 1/1600 second)
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 125; hand-held]

Marsh Wren IMG_0816Marsh Wren at Thief Lake WMA.
The Marsh Wren is a rare bird in northeast Minnesota, so I’m always thrilled when I can get a good shot of this cattail dweller. They are feisty little guys!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

Sharp-tailed Grouse in crop field near Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1331Sharp-tailed Grouse in soybean field near Minnesota’s Thief Lake WMA.

tractor burnt IMG_0561Burned tractor.
Wish I knew the story behind this “roasted” tractor!

Advertisements

Early Spring Wildlife of Teddy Roosevelt National Park

IMG_6173 (1)

On the way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I usually camp for a night at North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It breaks up the 16 hour drive home and allows us to get in some more shooting, and with a chance at several species which are not found at Yellowstone, specifically Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (feral horses, more accurately). The campground at Cottonwood is usually fairly deserted in early spring and late fall, and we only had to compete with a big bull Bison who was vigorously scratching his belly on a big rock in the campsite that we wanted. He eventually moved on and we could set up our tents.
We drive the 36-mile loop once in the late afternoon, and then again in the morning before we have to hit I-94 East for home…and the loop rarely disappoints. [April 19-20, 2016]

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6336 (1) Bison Eclipse of the Sun
Last October we had some fantastic dawn shooting when a herd of Bison were silhouetted by the orange foggy sunrise. We hoped for the same conditions on this trip, but the fog was more of a mist that hung in the valleys; you could actually see the water droplets floating in air. This led to a crazy “fogbow”, the first I’d ever seen.
I positioned myself low in the valley in order to get the Bison between me and the rising sun…and this is the result…perfect rim light. I only wish there had been a bit more color in the morning sky. (“warmed” the shot by upping the white balance to 7500k)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 158mm; f22 at 1/2000 second; ISO 200; tripod]

Fogbow Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_2904“Fogbow” over the prairie
I’d never witnessed a “fogbow” before. The morning fog was dense and you could actually see the suspended water droplets when backlit by the sun. My iPhone photo (above) actually turned out better than photos with my DSLR camera, probably due to the HDR feature on the iPhone.

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6248 (1)

Steaming Bison

[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f7.1 at 1/3200 second; ISO 640; tripod]

Mule Deer Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6229 (1)Mule Deer Dawn
No antlers this time of year (barely nubbins with velvet on the males), but the huge ears of Mule Deer make a distinctive silhouette.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 135mm; f5.6 at 1/5000 second; ISO 640; tripod]

Sharp-tailed Grouse eating buds Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6429 (1)Sharp-tailed Grouse eating buds
We had four species of gallinaceous birds during our brief visit—Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant, Gray Partridge (rare and unexpected), and many of these normally elusive birds, the Sharp-tailed Grouse. This guy was feeding on flower buds of a Box Elder tree (correct me if I’m wrong). We spent about 10 minutes watching his acrobatic and agile moves among the outer branches as he tried to access the outermost buds. Teddy Roosevelt may be one of the best places to see this sought-after species outside of the lekking season (when they dance at dawn on known leks).
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/4000 second; ISO 250; handheld, braced on car]

Wild Horse Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6107 (1)Wild Horse (feral horse) with foal
We probably saw about 40 different Wild Horses (yes, I know, feral horses) in our two loops of the Wildlife Drive. They were just dropping their foals, and we saw one little black guy that was so new that he still wobbled a bit.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/400 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Wild Horse Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6094 (1)Wild Horse (feral horse) with foal
Darn cute!
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/400 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Wild Horse Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6076 (1)Band of Wild Horses (feral horses)
The color variations of these horses never ceases to amaze me.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 100mm; f4.5 at 1/2000 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6491 (1)Relaxin’ Prairie Dog (or sunbathing? or hiding?)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/3200 second; ISO 250; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6473 (1)

Family Time (Black-tailed Prairie Dogs)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/1600 second; ISO 250; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6140 (1)

Cuddly Companions (Black-tailed Prairie Dogs)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f8 at 1/250 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Mountain Bluebird Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6449 (1)The Perfect Perch
…Just wish I had a better angle …and was a bit closer…and had better light. Oh well. Mountain Bluebird.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/6400 second; ISO 250; handheld]

Top Ten Action Shots 2013

Action images are always one of the goals of a wildlife photographer. Nature is in constant motion, and capturing a frozen moment in time is always exciting. Here are my favorite action shots of 2013.
Blue-winged Teal Fond du Lac Bridge area Duluth MN IMG_9912Blue-winged Teal in flight. As you can see, even 1/1600 of a second didn’t entirely freeze this duck’s wings. But that’s okay. I think a bit of motion blur in the wings adds to the photo, making it a bit less static. Of course, this wouldn’t be acceptable for the head. Near the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, handheld]

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480Backlit Trumpeter Swans coming in for a landing. If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, Minnesota, you’ve got to make a mid-winter pilgrimage to this tiny city park in Monticello. This stretch of the Mississippi River stays open and ice-free the entire winter due to the nuclear power plant upstream. And the swans love it! They also get a free hand out from one of the local residents. I like the backlit wings and blue shadows of this image. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250 second, ISO 250, handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7856
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7840This is a shot that I’d dreamed of for quite a while…a Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing atop the snow in morning light. It happened this year (2013) on my first trip out to the DNR blind near the lek (dancing grounds). It was April 26th and there was 8 inches os snow still on the ground (We’d had 48 inches of snow in April alone!). It was cloudy on my drive out but the clouds cleared soon after I got there. Long enough to get my dream shot. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Killdeer CR201 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8053I like animal behavior shots. This is a pair of Killdeer mating soon after returning to the North Woods in late April. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 100, handheld]

Common Merganser flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_6969Common Merganser flying through a snowstorm in April. Duluth, Minnesota near the St. Louis River.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640 second, ISO 160, tripod from blind]

Belted Kingfisher Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_5805I placed this perch in a marsh in hopes a Belted Kingfisher would use it…and within 10 minutes or so, one did! It even caught a fish from the perch. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Bald Eagle nr nest Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_7764Out on a spring walk, I evidently got too close to a Bald Eagle nest. This bird made several passes at me, giving its very squeaky alarm call. Douglas County, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 200, handheld]

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A plastic owl festooned with feathers from a feather duster enticed this American Kestrel to come in for a closer look. The male of this small falcon species is rusty-red and blue, an attractive combo. Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. See the full story here
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Manual exposure f7.1 at 1/2000 second, ISO 500, handheld]

Northern Hawk Owl Kolu Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072702Northern Hawk Owl hovering. These owls of remote bogs from Minnesota to Alaska hunt during the daytime…A very convenient trait for the wildlife photographer! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/2500 second, ISO 640, handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek: Shooting with Sparky

I’m introducing a new feature to The PhotoNaturalist site…Shooting with Sparky. These will be short 5-minute videos taken “on location” during a wildlife or landscape shoot. I’ll keep them together in a sidebar link called “Shooting with Sparky.”

Every April, the lengthening days triggers something in the brains of male Sharp-tailed Grouse causing them to start dancing…They return to their leks—a term for the dancing grounds of grouse species. With hormones raging, they do their best and most dramatic display for the females lurking around the edges, pretending not to watch. Males fight other males in dramatic flurries, but more often than not, confrontation ends in “Mexican standoffs,” birds just facing off and staring at one another until one splits.

I’m in the blind 45 minutes before sunrise as the full moon sets to the west. It’s April 7th and a bit chilly…35 degrees? The grouse really rev up about 15 minutes before the sun peaks above the hayfield horizon. Their strictly-for-show purple air sacs inflate, their yellow “eyebrows” erect, and then they spread their wings and perform their foot-stampin’ dance. I’ve been to a fair number of Ojibwa/Anishinabe powwows, and some of their dances are similar. I’m sure the Ojibwa learned much from their feathered dancing friends…and ate quite a few too!

At one point, a Northern Harrier swoops in for a look…She’s not interested in grouse for a meal—too big for her rodent-sized appetite—but the sharptails hunker down anyway, and a few take flight. Then, surprisingly, a crow pops in for a look. He seems curious. It almost seems like he’d like to join in! But after a brief visit, the crow takes off. The Eastern Meadowlarks are back, singing loudly around the blind. One lands only feet from me, but I’m too slow to get any video. By about 9:00a.m. most of the sharptail’s energy is spent, and they drift off to the cover of the nearby willow brush.




For these motion/panning blurs, I wanted LOTS of blur…So I put the camera on Shutter Priority (Tv setting) and set the speed to 1/20 second and auto ISO. Then I waited for some action. At these shutter speeds, you are going to get very few keepers, very few that are even somewhat sharp (“low-percentage shooting”), BUT when you do get one, the image can be very satisfying because the background is so blurred that it becomes just a wash of color. [REMEMBER: you can always click on a photo to make it larger]

All shot at 1/20 of a second with a Canon 400mm and STACKED teleconverters (a 2x and 1.4x) with Canon 7D on tripod