Posts tagged ‘Shooting with Sparky’

2021 “Top Ten” #1— Bird Portraits

**OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I WILL BE POSTING 10 “TOP TEN” POSTS OF MY FAVORITE WILDLIFE & LANDSCAPE PHOTOS FROM 2021: Bird Portraits, Black-and-white Wildlife, Mammals, Humor, Animals in the Landscape, Creative Wildlife, Insects, Landscapes, Flora and Bird Behavior. (PSSST…Here’s a secret…I have a hard time narrowing down photos to actually my top 10…so there may be more than that in each post!)

What a year! So good to have top-of-the-line equipment again! Thanks to a donation from a good friend, I am now shooting with the Canon R5 and a 100-500mm lens. Over the last couple years I’ve been mainly shooting video…and you can get away with inferior quality lenses when shooting moving pictures vs stills. So my bird photography suffered. But now with new equipment I am thrilled to be “back in the saddle” and shooting sharp birds.

Below are my favorite bird portraits from 2021. By my definition a bird portrait is one where the bird is the main focus of the image, and it is usually in good front light and not exhibiting any extraordinary behavior (that is for the “Behavior” category!). This is not my favorite style of shooting these days, but I do love it when I get a classic portrait of a species I don’t already have photos of. In fact, I have now photographed over 510 bird species in North America. You can see them all at sparkyphotos.com

Elegant Trogon; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

Probably one of the most exotic looking American birds, the Elegant Trogon is only found in a few wooded canyons in southeast Arizona. And Madera Canyon is where many folks find their lifer. I heard this guy’s hoarse grunts while walking up the canyon. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1250; 0 EV; handheld]

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

Surprisingly the female Wilson’s Phalarope is more colorful than the male. This is the opposite of most birds. And the reason may surprise you…She acts more like a male bird and has several mates. She then lays eggs in multiple nests which the males tend! You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 400; +0.33 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Spruce Grouse; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

My old camera could NEVER have got this shot! It was before dawn when I ran into a flock of about 6 Spruce Grouse in far northern Minnesota. I always have the camera set to “Auto ISO” and in these dark conditions it ran all the way up to ISO 12,800! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 430mm; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Red-naped Sapsucker; June; Pinedale, Wyoming

The whole family was in exile in Pinedale, Wyoming after we totaled our car by hitting a deer at 60mph. We were just fine, but it meant an extra 4 days in Pinedale on the edge of the Wind River Range. I went for a walk along the river that flows right through town and found this cooperative male Red-naped Sapsucker…a species closely related to our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker but only found in the intermountain west. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 328mm; 1/2000 second at f6.3; ISO 2500; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Trumpeter Swan; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

I had heard the Trumpeters trumpeting before I ever saw them. The trail at this location goes below the level of the berm of this mitigation cattail marsh. I was able to sneak up to the edge of the pond and shoot through the cattails to get this portrait. I blew out the whites to create this high key image that shows the intricate detail in the bill. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Great Gray Owl; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I was leading a field trip for my organization Friends of Sax-Zim Bog when we spotted some photographers on McDavitt Road looking at something. Of course we stopped and then saw the Great Gray hunting voles along the roadside. The field trip was called “Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night” but this owl made no sounds…and neither did the participants as we watched this huge owl in silence. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 12,800; -0.33 EV; handheld]

Acorn Woodpecker; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

Acorn Woodpeckers are personality-plus birds. This one had just finished “stealing” sugar water from the hummingbirds by hanging from the edge of a hummingbird feeder. They also have a crazy loud (and annoying?) call. Acorns, as you might suspect, are their favorite food, and they stash hundreds to thousands of acorns in shallow holes they drill in certain “granary trees.” You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 4000; 0 EV; handheld]

Red Knot (left) and Ruddy Turnstone; May; Knife River, Minnesota

Some birders don’t care much for shorebirds; “They all look the same and are hard to identify,” they say. But check out these two beauties! The Ruddy Turnstone (right) has a harlequin face, and the Red Knot is, well, red! The Red Knot is an unusual visitor to the Duluth/North Shore area in spring. It is much more common on the East Coast. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/2500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; -0.33 EV; handheld while laying on the beach]

Eared Grebe; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Not “ears” at all, the golden feather tufts of the Eared Grebe give it its common name. I was chest deep in the lake when I took this photo from my floating blind. I wish I would have focused on the front bird instead of the back bird. I did set my camera to f13 to try and get both in focus, but it wasn’t enough. Oh well, I still like the image. I also LOVE their red eyes. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f13; ISO 2000; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Yellow-eyed Junco; July; Mount Lemmon, Arizona

Not your everyday Junco! This is the southern cousin to our Dark-eyed Junco…and like its name implies, it has the opposite of dark eyes. The Yellow-eyed Junco is only found in extreme SE Arizona and SW New Mexico where it just reaches into the U.S. from its main range in the mountains of Mexico. They are very trusting birds and this guy performed for me high up on Mount Lemmon near Phoenix. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1000; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Sandhill Crane; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

The day was “blaah” but I had to make the most of it since I drove all the way to Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows from my house an hour and a half away. I got low for this shot and I like the shallow depth of field and muted colors of this Sandhill Crane. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 1250; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Sagebrush Sparrow; June; near Pinedale, Wyoming

Sagebrush Sparrow on Sagebrush….what more do you need to say? Well, for one thing, I really like the background sage blurring into the lovely blue sky. I also was really into sparrows this summer and this one was a surprise. During our exile in Pinedale, Wyoming (read about it in the caption of the Red-naped Sapsucker above) I took an early morning excursion out to “The Mesa” south of Pinedale. It is a vast area of sagebrush where this species along with other sage specialists thrive—Sage Grouse, Brewer’s Sparrow and Sage Thrasher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 200; 0 EV; handheld]

Rivoli’s (Magnificent) Hummingbird; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I didn’t think much of this photo when I took it, but it came to life on the computer screen. The R5 and RF 100-500 lens creates incredibly sharp images, and I love the subtle rich colors of this Rivoli’s Hummingbird in the shade. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 2000; 0 EV; handheld]

Ross’s Geese; March; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

A spring trip to western Minnesota has to be timed perfectly…The massive goose flocks move through quickly and you have to be there when it happens. I timed it well this year and I was thrilled to get this rare-for-Minnesota photo of 3 Ross’s Geese in flight formation. They are not a common species in the state. You can join me on this trip via my YouTube video called Goose-a-palooza. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 200; 0 EV; handheld]

Bald Eagle; February; Mississippi River near Buffalo, Wisconsin

My fingers ache simply from seeing this image! It was minus-25F WCF when I was laying in the snow shooting eagles plucking fish out of some open water on the Mississippi River. Most of the river was frozen and the few pockets that remained open concentrated the eagles. I was thrilled how well the Canon R5 did with autofocusing on the flying eagles in both stills and video mode. You can feel my pain virtually by watching this ice cold video from the comfort of your living room chair Ice Eagles of the Mississippi. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1600 second at f7.1; ISO 250; 0 EV; handheld]

Pine Grosbeak; March; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Laying in the snow again produced a pretty neat photo of a pretty neat bird—male Pine Grosbeak. I love their coloration…Is it red? Or pink? Or burgundy? Or a combination of all three? [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 320; 0 EV; handheld]

Ferruginous Hawk; May; near Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Some birds hold special appeal to me, simply because I have dreamt of seeing them for so long that they become mythical. The Ferruginous Hawk is one such creature. Ryan and I found this stunning male out in the prairie potholes of North Dakota. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 160; -0.33 EV; handheld]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I know Broad-billed Hummingbirds are dirt common in SE Arizona…and that they can be bullies at a feeder…but c’mon! How gorgeous are they! Never get tired of them. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 2500; 0 EV; handheld]

Pomarine Jaeger; October; Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior

This brute of a jaeger had just flown a circle around me, coming within 15 feet of me to attack a gull on the beach of Wisconsin Point. That is how jaegers (“hunter” in German) make a living on Lake Superior during migration; they harass gulls until they cough up their last meal. The jaeger then scoops up the partially digested meal. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty fascinating! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1600 second at f8; ISO 4000; +1 EV; handheld]

Lewis’s Woodpecker; February; Minnesota

A major North American nemesis bird for me has been the Lewis’s Woodpecker. I had looked in over 6 western states over the last 30 years but only had glimpses in Utah and Colorado. So it is ironic that I got my best views of this western species in central Minnesota! It was coming to a feeder of a friend of mine and he was gracious enough to allow birders to come and see his high-profile guest. And what a dandy! Iridescent green back, rosy breast and red and silvery gray throat…Wow! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 2000; 0 EV; handheld]

Trumpeter Swan; May; Gordon Macquarrie Wetlands; Wisconsin

The floating blind makes you invisible…well, kind of. Canada Geese are hard to fool…and Trumpeter Swans (and Loons) seem very curious. This guy came withing 15 feet of my blind. I like this eye-level monochromatic peek through the cattail stalks. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 343mm; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; -0.66 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Western Grebes are just simply a funky bird. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [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]

Botteri’s Sparrow; July; near Box Canyon, Arizona

Maybe one of our most drab sparrows in America, but even the Botteri’s can look stunning on a Mesquite branch in early-morning light. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 343mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 EV; handheld]

American Avocet; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

You just simply could not get this shot without a floating blind. Since the Avocet doesn’t recognize the blob as a human, it can relax, and even sleep. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 800; +0.33 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Broad-tailed Hummingbird; June; Wind River Range, Wyoming

Thankfully you can’t tell that I took this photo off the deck of a mountain cabin in Wyoming. I put out a hummingbird feeder and this Broad-tailed found it within 24 hours. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 1250; 0 EV; handheld]

Swainson’s Hawk; May; Prairie potholes of Kidder County, North Dakota

Just a nice portrait of a beautiful raptor. The prairies and grasslands of the Great Plains are home to the Swainson’s Hawk. Ryan and I stumbled on this on in Kidder County, North Dakota. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f9; ISO 100; -0.33 EV; handheld]

Ash-throated Flycatcher; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

Startled by a large Carpenter Bee, this Ash-throated Flycatcher threw open its wings to take off. I like the bit of motion in the wings (unplanned) and also the dreamy look of this image. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; 0 EV; handheld]

Yellow-eyed Junco; July; Mount Lemmon, Arizona

I find myself shooting wider and wider each year. This allows a bit of the bird’s habitat to show, and makes a better story. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1.

Elegant Trogon; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

Like woodpeckers, Elegant Trogons nest in tree cavities, but unlike woodpeckers, they do not excavate their own nest. Instead they use natural cavities, especially those in Sycamores where branches have fallen off leaving a nice cavity. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/400 second at f7.1; ISO 320; 0 EV; handheld]

Pine Grosbeak; January; Wrenshall, Minnesota

A little bit of sidelighting helped this Pine Grosbeak photo push into the top ten (top thirty really). [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 400; 0 EV; handheld]

I’m Invisible! Floating Blind Hide Bird Photography Prairie Potholes of North Dakota: Birding Canon R5

Ryan Marshik and I go on a bird photography video trip to the prairie pothole region of North Dakota …specifically Kidder and Stutsman counties west of Jamestown. We use our floating blinds in some alkaline lakes and cattail marshes to photograph ducks, grebes, shorebirds, gulls and more. 

Sparky risks his Canon R5 by putting it only inches above the water line in the floating hide/floating blind.

From the blind/hide we witness Western Grebes doing their rushing display/dance, Franklin’s Gulls courting, Willet courtship, mating ritual of the American Avocet, Eared Grebes dancing, Northern Shoveler’s and Wilson’s Phalarope preening and much more.

We also find a Ferruginous Hawk nest.

What a great place…and only 7 hours from home!

Goose-a-Palooza! FIVE species of goose migrating through western Minnesota—March 19-20

It was just like the old-timers talk about….Flocks of geese everywhere! I hit it right again this year (thanks to eBird reports, the Minnesota Birding Facebook Group and intel from my birding buddies, Kim Risen and Steve Millard. Thanks guys!

Definitely got my much-needed dose of mega-goose migration on the prairie. The cacophony of goose cackles and swan honks is definitely worth the 8 hour round trip. The 25-35 mph winds made video and sound recording challenging but I did my best.

North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County, Minnesota was the hot spot. Five species of geese including tens of thousands of Snow Geese, thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese, and lesser amounts of Ross’s Geese, Canada Geese and Cackling Geese. But back roads in Grant and Ottertail and Traverse counties held numerous flocks. I’d see a smudge on the horizon, throw up my binoculars and the smudge would come to life as a massive flock of geese.

Tundra Swans were also moving in impressive numbers.

I also searched for Short-eared Owls in prairie areas (SNAs, WPAs, WMAs) and did flush one but did not see any hunting.

Three Ross’s Geese (note greenish base of the stubby bill that separates them from Snow Geese) [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Geese coming in to North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant County, Minnesota
Snow Geese and waxing moon [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Goose flock, silo, setting sun [Ottertail County, Minnesota]
Greater White-fronted Goose [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Northern Pintails [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Goose flock [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Geese and waxing moon [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Ducks and rising sun [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Greater White-fronted Geese [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]

All photos and video shot with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens. Additional video shot with Panasonic GH5 and Sigma 50-500mm lens (“toy” miniature time lapse), and iPhone 7+

Rednecks at Osakis (& Part 2: Birding Blind)

May 27, 2020

Grebe photography from a kayak: Shooting with Sparky

The trip ends with an unfortunate Sparky misadventure. But the day kayaking on Lake Osakis in west central Minnesota starts out beautifully with video of Western Grebes and Red-necked Grebes. Sparky also films diving Forster’s Terns, a Bald Eagle snatching a fish, American White Pelicans in flight, Marsh Wrens and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. [wildlife photography, bird video, wildlife video, Panasonic GH5, Shooting with Sparky episode]

Virtually Live 8 “The Triathlon” episode: June 2, 2020

This is the “triathlon” edition of Virtually Live. Sparky kayaks, fat bikes and even walks a little in the Sax-Zim Bog during this June 2nd episode. We begin the field trip by kayaking from Stone Lake to East Stone Lake and find one of our latest migrants, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (amongst many other cool finds), then fat bike to the Whiteface River and discover some unique birds and flowers in the floodplain forest on a parcel that we are in the process of purchasing. A cooperative Mourning Warbler rounds out our adventure.

Virtually Live “Waffles & Warblers” field trip 7: Sax-Zim Bog May 24, 2020

It’s the Virtually Live edition of Waffles & Warblers! Except Sparky has Grape Nuts for breakfast instead. Twelve species of colorful warblers are found in the Sax-Zim Bog…and all are on breeding territory. Golden-winged Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and more. Plus Bobolink heaven along Arkola Road. And Sparky makes an announcement about a new video series. Will this be the last Virtually Live birding field trip? Stay tuned!

Virtually Live 6 Birding Field Trip to the Sax-Zim Bog; May 19, 2020

Number six! I enjoy doing these …especially the birding! Not so much fun to come home and download 4 memory cards (two cameras, sound recorder, Go Pro) and then edit 200 clips into a 15-20 minute video before bed. Long day! (I have to upload to Youtube overnight due to our family usage of WiFi during the day).

Highlights of this trip include a hunting Great Gray Owl, a dirt-eating Porcupine, breeding White-winged Crossbills, juvenile Canada jays and 10 species of warblers including Magnolia, Northern Waterthrush, Black and white Warbler, tour of the new MOTUS tower and more. Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

Palisade Head Peregrines (and grebes & mergansers): Shooting with Sparky

Palisade Head Peregrine Falcon Watch May 1: Wildlife Photography

A spring day at Northeast Minnesota’s Palisade Head on Lake Superior. Sparky is hoping to photograph Peregrine Falcons today, but he has more luck with Common Mergansers, Least Chipmunks, Song Sparrows and a flyby Peregrine. Wildlife Photography, Bird Photography

Virtually Live 4 Birding/Photography Field Trip to Sax-Zim Bog May 4, 2020

Virtually Live 4 Birding Field Trip to Sax-Zim Bog May 4, 2020

The day starts out promising with sunny skies, calm winds and a very cooperative drake Wood Duck, and then it gets even better with some RARE BIRDS for Sax-Zim: the Meadowlark of the prairies, a sparrow not normally found in northeast Minnesota, a surprising warbler on territory, and a pair of grassland-loving shorebirds (Thanks to FOSZB Head Naturalist Clinton and his eagle-eyed wife Kristina!). A very FAT and cooperative “quill pig” is the “Superstar Mammal of the Day,” but what will be the Superstar Bird? Stick around for the surprise procreative ending to Sparky’s Virtually Live field trip!

Virtual Field Trip 2— Birding Sax-Zim Bog April 21, 2020

Our second Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live birding field trip. April 21, 2020. On this outing Sparky Stensaas nearly drives right by a Great Gray Owl, finds cooperative pairs of Sandhill Cranes, photographs late Snow Buntings and Northern Shrikes and more. We wind our way around the Sax-Zim Bog from 6:20 am to 11:15 am with stops at Stone Lake, Sax Road, St. Louis River, Arkola and more. Superstar bird of the day is ????