Posts tagged ‘Snowshoe Hare’

Snowshoe Hare pair…one brown, one white—March 26th; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Deep in a Black Spruce/Tamarack bog on March 26th I encountered something quite amazing…and entirely new for me—A pair of courting Snowshoe Hares…one already turning brown (though there was about a foot of snow on the ground) and one still mostly white. This was in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog.

I was just standing quietly and listening for birds, when I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. It was these two hares chasing each other around the trunk of a spruce! They’d run at each other and then one would leap over the other one, stop momentarily and then continue their cavorting chase. They continued for a couple minutes but then they noticed me and stopped. They froze in position for about 20 minutes, but then again continued their courtship.
Snowshoe Hare pair leaping Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0725

Cavorting Snowshoe Hares in late March are probably courting. Their color has nothing to do with their sex…Some hares just turn brown earlier than others in spring. But turning brown in late March/early April can be a problem if the snowpack lingers late into April. They become easier to spot by predators such as Canada Lynx and wolves.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0865

One hare was farther along in its molt from winter white to summer brown. This change is brought on by increasing day length, and NOT by whether there is snow on the ground or not.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0839

Snowshoe Hares are normally crepuscular (more active at dawn/dusk) and nocturnal and can therefore avoid some diurnal hunters. Lynx and Northern Goshawks (females) are two of their historic predators.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0837

Snowshoe Hares tend to be on a 10-year boom-bust cycle, but this is more regular in the heart of their range in Canada and Alaska. Minnesota is at the south end of the range and the cycle here is not as regular.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0836

Freezing in place is a good strategy to avoid being noticed by predators….But they also think they are invisible to this photographer. Every Snowshoe Hare I’ve found in winter has used this method and I’ve been able to slowly get quite close to them.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0833

Hares in winter feed on the inner bark and buds of  shrubs and small trees.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0821

Surprisingly, Snowshoe Hares can have between 2 and 5 litters each year! Each litter can be from 1 to 8 leverets (young hares).

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0817

White pelage is a big help to Snowshoe Hares in remaining invisible during the snowy season.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0811Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0801

I love the mix of colors in the pelage of the molting Snowshoe Hare.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0788Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0786Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0775

It takes about a month for a Snowshoe Hare to turn from white to brown in spring (mostly April) and from brown to white in fall (mostly November).

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0710-2

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

[**All photos with Canon 7D and Sigma 50-500mm lens]

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A Superior Day—Pine Marten, Red Crossbills, Black-backed Woodpeckers & More

May 4th, 2015

I spent the day up in the Superior National Forest and Echo Trail, north and east of Ely, Minnesota just south of the Canadian border. It was a beautiful “May the Fourth be With You” day…Low about 35 and high in the 50s, sunny and calm. It was good to get out and exercise my shutter finger. And there was plenty to shoot!

Pine Marten Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7940

A grizzled Pine Marten (American Marten) along the Echo Trail, Ely, MN [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second at ISO 400; handheld]

World’s Oldest Pine Marten?

Coming around a corner, I spotted a Woodchuck along the road. At least that’s what I thought it was. But when I got it in my binoculars, I discovered it was a Pine Marten! But an interesting looking Marten that had a very white face. Its grizzled muzzle reminded me of an old dog who’s going gray. I got a few “insurance” shots from a long ways away, then eased the van forward. But this old-timer was moving slow, even his bounding gait seemed like that of an old timer who needs a new hip. So I continued the pursuit on foot. As he moved into a recently logged area, I pished and used my predator call to get his attention, but this veteran was too smart for me. He quickly realized I was no threat and continued poking his nose under brush searching for voles. But for a photographer, it was a bit frustrating as he only gave me good looks at his back. Finally he paused very briefly and looked over his shoulder at me. I fired off a barrage of shots. All were sharp but I had “too much lens,” as photographers say. My 400mm f5.6 lens on a Canon 7D is the equivalent of 640mm, and I clipped his tail. In hindsight I should have grabbed a frame that focused lower down and captured his entire tail. He finally had enough of me and loped off into the dense woods. Hope you make it through another winter, my friend.

Red Crossbill Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7882

A juvenile Red Crossbill comes begging for food from dad (Echo Trail, Ely, MN)

Nesting in Winter?

Maybe you’ve heard this amazing fact…Red Crossbills have been recorded nesting in every month of the year! How can this be? Well, this bird relies completely on one food source…the seeds of pines. Even their nestlings are fed regurgitated seeds. So when this wandering species finds an abundant source of food such as a Red Pines laden with cones along Ely’s Echo Trail, their little bird brains do some mental calculations and determine that, yes, there is enough food here to sustain our family, and so courtship and nesting begins. That brings us to this morning and explains what I witnessed.

I put on the brakes for two birds in the middle of the dirt road. It was a male and female Red Crossbill eating dirt. It is well known that all crossbills seem to crave minerals, like salt, that are concentrated in some soils. This was interesting, but what happened next was even more fascinating and something I had not witnessed in years.

The male flew up in a tree and was quickly surrounded by chipping birds. He continued to move lower in the tree and was followed by the striped birds. Then I realized that these were juvenile Red Crossbills begging for food from daddy. Working backwards, I calculated that these crossbills likely nested in these, or nearby pines, in late winter! How does a couple-ounce bird keep fragile and very small eggs from freezing at Minus 20 F temperatures?

Red Crossbill female and juvenile Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7865

Juvenile Red Crossbill (striped bird left) and adult female Red Crossbill (right).

Red Crossbill juvenile May 4 Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7893

I really did not know what a juvenile Red Crossbill looked like until this morning. They are very distinctive with a boldly striped/streaked body. Three young ones were begging from their daddy, and maybe from their mom, but I did not witness that.

Red Crossbill Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7848

Red Crossbill Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7855

Red Crossbills (as well as White-winged Crossbills) are often seen feeding on snow or dirt along backcountry roads. It is known that they crave salt, and they are likely ingesting soil that is saturated with road salt.

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The Snowshoe Hares have almost reclaimed their brown summer pelage, only their legs, feet and belly remain white. While driving down this road early in the morning I flushed a Northern Goshawk from the road. When I got closer I could see that it had killed a Snowshoe Hare and was feeding on it. I wish I would have been paying better attention so I could have watched through binoculars. I lingered, hoping it would return. But I knew it wouldn’t come near when I was only a hundred yards away. Like all raptors, the female Goshawk is quite a bit larger than the male. She is able to easily prey on hares, while the male, being smaller, prefers smaller game like Ruffed Grouse.

boat landing Big Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8003

A classic Northern Minnesota scene. You just have to drive down a road like this to see what’s at the end.

Epigaea repens Trailing Arbutus Echo Trail near Moose River Ely MN IMG_7956

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is a fragrant early spring wildflower found in dry pine stands. It is a member of the Ericaceae  and related to blueberries, cranberries, wintergreen and leatherleaf to name a few. The evergreen leaves are broadly oval with nearly parallel sides, which helps separate them from Wintergreen which has more football-shaped leaves. If you are lucky enough to find a stand of these uncommon beauties, kneel down and take a good sniff of their fragrant blossoms.

snow in woods Echo Trail MN IMG_8037

Though we had a relatively mild winter, some rogue patches of winter snow could still be found in ravines.

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The Red Maples were in peak flower, and the aspen leaves were just opening up.

Cicindela longilabris White-lipped Tiger Beetle Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8028

Boreal Long-lipped Tiger Beetle (Cicindela longilabris)
These half-inch-long beetles are ferocious predators…at least to other half-inch long critters. You can find them along sandy or gravel paths on sunny days in spring and fall. Like their common name implies, they are a creature of the Great North Woods, occurring from New England to the Western Great Lakes and north across Canada from Labrador to Alaska. Found in openings in the coniferous forests. Also at high elevations in western mountains.

Cicindela longilabris White-lipped Tiger Beetle Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8017

The “white lip” is actually the labrum and it is very visible and a good field mark in identifying this tiger beetle. They also have unmarked dark elytra.

Broad-winged Hawk Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8033

The Broad-wings are back from their wintering grounds in South America. Millions exit the U.S and Canada in September and October and head for warmer climes. Unlike their mammal-eating cousins such as the Red-tailed Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk, Broad-wings thrive on a diet of reptiles (snakes) and amphibians (frogs). And their timing on returning to the North Woods is no accident…four species of frogs are very vocal and active in ponds now, and the Garter Snakes have emerged from hibernation. The Broad-wing buffet is set!

Broad-winged Hawk Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8295

Black-backed Woodpecker Pagami Creek Fire burn Isabella Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8198

Black-backed Woodpecker Pagami Creek Fire burn Isabella Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8239

Mating Game

I found a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers EXACTLY in the same spot I last saw them 7 months ago. Now I don’t know if they are the same birds, but I’d like to think so. The area is in a four-year old burn called the Pagami Creek Fire. The charred Jack Pines are a veritable grocery store for the woodpeckers. Wood-boring beetle grubs invade the dead and dying trees. I watched as the male dug out one fat white grub and one skinny yellowish grub. Yummy!

I ran into photographer friend Jason Mandich and we spent some time with these incredibly tame birds. Interestingly, they seemed to get quite agitated when they heard the nearby song of a White-throated Sparrow.

Several times, the female would perch on an angled branch, more horizontal than vertical, and hold her body parallel to the branch. The male would fly over and approach her. I imagine this was part of their mating ritual, but I did not witness any actual mating.

Black-backed Woodpecker Pagami Creek Fire burn Isabella Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8274

I guess they have black backs for a reason! I wonder if their solid black backs are an adaptation to feeding on the charred trunks of trees in burns. Seems like it would be a handy trait when trying to avoid aerial predators. Note how this guy almost disappears.

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I loved the pattern of these stacked pulpwood logs with the single needled branch hanging on. I also played with the image a bit to turn it into a more graphic black-and-white illustration.

Coyote hunting MN23 near Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_8354

Just a mile from home, and in the dim light of dusk, I spotted a Coyote on a hillside. She was hunting actively and I watched her catch two voles from the same patch of tall grass. It was far too dark for good photos but I couldn’t keep myself from taking a couple shots with the lens braced on the car window. She would not have allowed me to get out and set up a tripod. I do like the deep blue dusk sky.

White on White: Snowshoe Hare


Finally, a cooperative Snowshoe Hare! These guys have been on my “hit list” for a long time. After completing their transformation from brown to white in early winter, they normally just disappear into the snowy landscape. And when you find one, it is often difficult to get a “clean shot” as they normally stick to dense brush and “dog hair” young Balsam Fir stands.

I found this gal (?) bounding down the road in front of me in northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. Her leaps must have been three feet vertical and ten feet horizontal as she tried to outrun the black beast (my Subaru)! I kept on going thinking her last dash into the willow brush would be the last time I saw her. But, optimism is the wildlife photographer’s best tool, so I turned around. Fortunately, she had decided to freeze right along the road. Motionless she sat as I eased out of the driver’s seat. I crawled around to the back of my car and got out my tripod. Fortunately, I had on my surplus Swedish Army wool pants so I could lay belly-down in the new snow.

Just then a car pulled alongside…This is the bane of all wildlife photographers…You may be on a little-traveled dirt road for hours without seeing a vehicle, but right when you spot a subject and start shooting, a car comes out of nowhere to scare off your quarry. But this time the driver used proper etiquette and backed up and parked behind me. I shot for about ten minutes, slowly getting closer and closer. The Snowshoe Hare sat motionless, hunkering lower and lower into the snow. In the hare’s mind, it was safe…No predator could see her…for she was white in a white world. This is the strategy hare’s use to avoid predation by their arch-enemy, the Canada Lynx. A useless strategy in “brown winters” like we had had up until recently.

After getting within 15 feet, I decided I’d gotten enough shots. As I crawled back to the car, the other car pulled up. In a southern twang, the lady said “You were like a setter on point…But we couldn’t see what you were looking at!” I pointed out the still-motionless hare. With much gratitude, they enjoyed a satisfying look at one of our cutest boreal mammals.

Here is the “snowshoe” part of a Snowshoe Hare! Huge, out-of-proportion rear feet help this bunny float over deep snow across its northern range. Of course, its main predator, the Canada Lynx, also has oversized paws!

Top: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100
Middle: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f6.3; ISO 125
Rear End: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 125 (not quite fast enough shutter speed)