Posts tagged ‘Snowy Owl’

Snowy Owls & other birds—Glacial Ridge NWR March 9-10

Last week I posted photos of the amazing hoarfrost that greeted me at sunrise in northwest Minnesota’s Polk County on Friday March 9th. This time we will concentrate on the wildlife I saw over these 2 days (actually 1 1/2 days). Most of my time was spent in the 57 square mile Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge east of Crookston, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2004.

My main purpose for this trip to far northwest Minnesota was picking up a pallet of books in Pembina, North Dakota, but my photographic goal was to get slow-motion video of a Snowy Owl in flight. I ended up having six sightings of FOUR different Snowy Owls….A success even without getting any video.

Snowy Owl in Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. I saw 3 different Snowies in the western part of the refuge. Unfortunately all were sitting on telephone poles…Not the most photogenic perch. But my goal was slow-motion video of Snowy Owls in flight….but most were just patiently watching the landscape for any mammalian movement.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; hand-held]

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse in the frosty landscape of western Minnesota.

This gal (?) was the most tolerant of the four Snowy Owls I saw over the two days. But unfortunately she was sitting right above a busy highway in Kittson County and a State Trooper urged me to move on. I asked for a few minutes longer and he said that was fine. But I could have spent a couple hours with this beautiful owl. I did get video of it stretching and fluffing its feathers.

Kittson County is the extreme northwest county in Minnesota. It is a LONG WAYS from anything! In fact, Kim Eckert claims that if you were in Minneapolis and wanted to get here, it would be faster to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and then drive southeast to Kittson County than to drive here from the Twin Cities!

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/640 sec. at f10; ISO 100; tripod]

Excavating a nest cavity or just feeding? Hard to tell but this female Pileated Woodpecker (no red mustache and the red on the head doesn’t reach the bill) was busy chiseling away at a very oval hole.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.33 ev; braced on car window frame]

Rough-legged Hawk taking flight from the railroad tracks bisecting Glacial Ridge NWR. I  really think the Roughleg is one of the most beautiful buteo hawks in North America. They nest on the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska but spend the winter in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Their tiny bill and feet are perfect for feeding on small rodents, especially voles and lemmings.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.66 ev; braced on car window frame]

Finally! A Snowy Owl on an eye-level and photogenic perch! But alas, it was about a half mile away. Let’s call these “bird in the landscape” photos. I actually think they would look pretty cool printed large (like 4 feet wide!).

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky in the Polk County, Minnesota portion of the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail on a gorgeous late winter day.

Very small and very white Snowy Owl (so likely a male) atop very large power pole just outside Glacial Ridge NWR. The day before he was in the refuge, and hunting from a smaller power pole.

Coyote hunting in northwest Minnesota’s aspen parkland.

Note the beautiful barring on the breast and belly of this Greater Prairie Chicken. Glacial Ridge is a real stronghold for this prairie species in Minnesota. I (conservatively) saw 28 prairie chickens on Saturday March 10 in Glacial Ridge.

Rough-legged Hawks were mostly absent from NE Minnesota this winter, but there were good numbers at Glacial Ridge on this weekend. I saw 15 in just the eastern part of the refuge in one morning.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f6.3; ISO 640; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Both Sharp-tailed Grouse (pictured above) and Greater Prairie Chickens were feeding along the railroad tracks that bisect Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe there is spilled grain along the tracks. I saw a total of 48 Sharptails in the refuge on March 10th.

Either Sharp-tailed Grouse or Greater Prairie Chicken tracks in the snow.

 

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Snow Buntings were beginning to head north to their tundra breeding grounds in northern Canada. I saw many flocks along US75 between Crookston and the North Dakota border near Canada…441 total with one flock totaling about 150 birds. But this Snow Bunting was all alone and I saw him on two consecutive days along the same stretch of deserted road. I even got video of him feeding on plant seeds that were peaking above the crusty snow.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/1000 sec. at f10; ISO 320; hand-held]

Fenceline border between private and public lands adjacent to Glacial Ridge NWR.

Pair of Bald Eagles…The Bald Eagles are beginning to think about nesting in far NW Minnesota. I saw two pairs that were actually IN/AT THE NEST already…even though there was no open water anywhere around. This duo at Glacial Ridge was actually an adult and immature.

BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

NW MN trip

March 9-10, 2018

Between Crookston and St. Vincent in Kittson County along US75

441 Snow Buntings

373 Horned Larks

Glacial Ridge NWR (March 9 and 10)

15 Rough-legged Hawks

48 Sharp-tailed Grouse

28 Greater Prairie Chickens

3 Snowy Owls (CR446 mainly)…including a very white and little male

1 Pileated Woodpecker

Snowy Owl along US75 at milepost 379.5 just south of Kennedy in Kittson County (March 9)

Meadowlark sp. near Lake Bronson in Kittson County (March 9) (spring migrant)

3 Bald Eagle nests with pairs occupying nest (Polk and Kittson Counties)

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Best Bird Photos 2015

At the end of every year I look through all the photos I’ve taken in the last 12 months and pick my favorites. Throughout the year, I quickly star-rate my images in Aperture…3-stars are images that I’d like to explore more later. Then in December, I sort by all the 3-stars and upgrade a bunch to 4-star. In my final evaluation round I look for images that really stand out from the crowd. Creativity ranks quite high in my analysis of the finalists. A perfectly composed portrait is a very salable image, but quite boring in my mind. Here are the 20-some FIVE STAR BIRD PHOTOS FROM 2015 (in no particular order). Enjoy!
Barred Owl Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8448The Birch and the Barred
A Barred Owl leaps from its perch in a Paper Birch (Hey, that ryhymes!) It pays to be alert and watch for any sign that a raptor is about to fly. Make sure to have the camera on continuous focus, have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion, and hold the shutter down to fire off a bunch of photos.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250; hand-held]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7632Flight of the Barred
Continuous-focus shots of birds in flight in a snowfall is tricky business, but today’s cameras are pretty good at staying locked on to the main subject and not getting fooled into switching focus to falling flakes. Of course, the heavier the snowfall the harder this becomes. This is an uncropped image and I barely got both wingtips in the frame.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 2000; hand-held]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0205Picky Eater
Black Terns are a dainty cousin to the gulls. They feed by plucking insects and small fish from the surface or just under the surface of freshwater marshes. Quite rare in northern Minnesota, they were very common at Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marsh north of Winnipeg (see my post about this wonderful place here)
[Black Tern; Oak Hammock Marsh, Winnipeg, Manitoba]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250;-0.33ev; hand-held]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1030 Peep Peek
Stalking shorebirds is frustrating work. You crawl on the sand down the beach, sometimes only to have the flock change direction and move away from you. But sometimes they cooperate quite nicely. This Dunlin even felt comfortable enough to take a quick cat nap right in front of me!
[Dunlin; Wisconsin Point beach on Lake Superior; Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/1250; ISO 200 -1.33ev;hand-held]

Golden Eagle immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4158 Gold on Gold
Choosing the right location at the right time of year is critical to getting great wildlife photos. And with migrating raptors, it is also crucial to know what weather will bring the birds closer to you. In this case, I knew that strong NW wind days would force the hawks and eagles and falcons to funnel down the shore of Lake Superior and right over Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. The strength of the wind would keep the birds relatively low (distant colorful trees make a more pleasing background than boring blue sky). I also had a plastic owl on a pole to attract the curious and furious raptors. It all came together when this immature Golden Eagle not only came in, but came in BELOW us! This rarely happens. And I got to share this moment with several other birders.
[Golden Eagle, immature; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Great Gray Owl Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3912 Great Gray Stare
Though Great Gray Owls hunt mainly with their incredible hearing, their bright yellow eyes is what captured my attention. I also love the symmetry of their face, including the big facial disks that collect sound like radar dishes and focus it on their ear holes. And some are incredibly tame, allowing close approach and letting me get this close up portrait.
[Great Gray Owl; Sax-Zim Bog; Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/60; ISO320; hand-held (this exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Lincoln's Sparrow backyard bird pool Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1077 Lincoln Bathed Here
I picked this photo because it represented success with a new idea I had this fall; I made an eye-level pond out of a couple saw horses, some plywood and a couple 2x4s (upcoming spring blog post). As I sat in my blind, I wondered if I’d ever get anything better than the frequent goldfinch bathers…then this gorgeous Lincoln’s Sparrow showed up…and even better, he got in the pool and started bathing. And the light was perfect! Success!
[Lincoln’s Sparrow; Skogstjarna; Carlton County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/250; ISO 320; flash; tripod]

Northern Goshawk immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4068 Gos Attack
Fortunately this young Goshawk is attacking my plastic owl, Earl, and not me. Gos are fierce defenders of their nests and you don’t want to agitate a brooding mama. This technique is much safer. I placed the owl on a pole along a known migration route and waited. Most raptors dislike Great Horned Owls and they will readily harass a sitting owl. Focusing on a torpedo-like bird is a challenge, but sometimes you get lucky!
[Northern Goshawk; Hawk Ridge; Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Pied-billed Grebe Stone Lake Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2272 Stone Lake Silhouette
Canoeing at dawn on a wild lake often produces some great photo opportunities. This morning on Stone Lake in the Sax-Zim Bog was quite foggy. But I like the silhouettes you can make on such mornings, and the graceful arced rushes add much to the composition.
[Pied-billed Grebe; Stone Lake; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f10 at 1/800; ISO 100; hand-held]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084 Marsh Ruddies
West Central North Dakota is a spectacular place for prairie breeding birds. I spent a couple days there in June photographing the western specialties, including this pair of Ruddy Ducks. I don’t get to see them that often in northeastern Minnesota, so it was a special treat. I chose this photo simply because it was a beautiful photo of a beautiful duck in a beautiful setting (I really like the yellow bladderwort flowers that add a little something extra.)
[Ruddy Duck pair; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f22 at 1/60; ISO 250; braced on car door frame (exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from taking video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7695 - Version 2Perfect Perch
The sun barely peaked out from behind the clouds to cast some interesting light on this Barred Owl. And could you ask for a better perch?!
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Ruffed Grouse silhouette fall colors Hilpiper Rd Douglas Co WI IMG_0581 Stepping Out
This is one of those “G & G” (grab-and-go) shots that I NEVER thought would become one of my favorites of the year. I was just driving down a dirt road on my way to my “real” destination and preconceived photo goal, when I saw this Ruffed Grouse crossing the road. I stopped to get a shot out the window but was disappointed when she walked right into the deep shadows. But then I noticed the sun-lit fall foliage in the background and I had an idea. I dropped out of my van and lay on the road to get a low angle on the bird. I wanted to silhouette her against that fall color. I underexposed by a couple stops to make sure she went black. Success! Pays to keep an open mind when on a photo excursion, and be open to whatever happens in front of you. Zen and the Art of Wildlife Photography?
[Ruffed Grouse; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/320; ISO 400; -0.67ev; hand-held while laying on ground]

Snowy Owl adult male Menards Superior WI  IMG_4580 - Version 2 Landing Gear Down!
Was this photo taken in the Arctic, just as this adult male Snowy Owl was about to land on a snow-covered tundra hummock? Or was it preparing to touch down on a light pole at the Menards Store in the middle of Superior Wisconsin? I’ll let your imagination decide!
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin (oops! I just gave it away)]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 200; hand-held]

Snowy Owl Menards Superior WI IMG_3701 High Key Snowy
I really do love playing with photos in Aperture (or Lightroom) and Photoshop. I make no apologies for it. You are either going to hate or love this photo. I turned it into a “high key” image, where the whites are blown out intentionally. I did this to show off the stunning yellow eyes of this Arctic visitor to the northland.
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/320; ISO 500; hand-held]

Sora Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8809 Rail Cool
To get a photo like this, you have to sit for hours in a wet marsh, soaked from foot to forearm and just hope this secretive bird emerges from the cattails. But since I didn’t have this much time or motivation, I simply sat on the edge of the road and played the call of a Sora on my iPhone. Cheating? Maybe, but far more efficient. I do always keep the bird’s welfare in mind, and don’t overdo the playing of calls.
[Sora (rail); Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/400; ISO 320; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2573
Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2588 As Pretty as her Spouse (Both Photos Above)
Once you actually find a Spruce Grouse, they are incredibly trusting and allow close approach. The trick is finding one! I photographed this hen from my belly while she picked for grit on a dirt road in far northern Minnesota, then she flew up to eye-level in a nearby spruce (how convenient!). Fortuitously there was also some yellow birch leaves in the background. I think female Spruce Grouse are as attractive as the males.
[Spruce Grouse hen; Superior National Forest; Lake County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/80; ISO 1250; tripod (only way I could get away with this exposure!)]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295 Flight of the Swampy
Flight shots are low percentage shooting….meaning you get very few “keepers” (shots that are sharp and in focus). But in this digital age, we have nothing to lose! In the film days, this show would have cost me $20!…$10 for a roll of Fuji Velvia and $10 for processing the 36 slides…OUCH!
[Swamp Sparrow; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; braced on car door frame]

Turkey Vulture sun bathing wings spread Tofte dump Cook Co MN IMG_9670Bathing Beauty?
Vultures often “sun bath” to dry their wings, but you don’t often get them doing it on such a nice perch in such nice light. Of course, this was at a municipal dump, but you can’t tell it from the photo!
[Turkey Vulture; Tofte Dump; North Shore of Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f8 at 1/1250; ISO 400; braced on car door frame]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1500 Take off!
You can only take so many photos of an Upland Sandpiper standing on a wooden fence post. So then you wait…and wait…and wait for it to do something else, like stretch or yawn or …fly! I was ready this time and just held down the shutter as it leapt from its perch.
[Upland Sandpiper; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 500; hand-held]

Virginia Rail Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas County WI IMG_0222Yes Virginia, You are a Rail
I’d never managed to get a good photo of an adult Virginia Rail. I once had lots of fun with a juvenile Virginia from my floating blind (see blog post and photos here}. But this May day was my Lucky Day and it appeared from the cattails in perfect light…a gorgeous bird that is rarely seen. By the way, they are called “rails” because their body is incredibly thin when viewed head on, and this is actually the source of the phrase “thin as a rail.”
[Virginia Rail; Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/500; ISO 1/1000; -0.33ev; hand-held]

Superior Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1567
Snowy Owl Superior Airport Bong Superior WI IMG_1497
[Continued from previous post]…There have been no Snowies in the Sax-Zim Bog this year so Dave and I headed to the urban “wilds” of Superior, Wisconsin (Duluth’s neighbor in the “Twin Ports”). We found two Snowies but they were not equally photogenic. One had been banded and painted by researchers so it could be identified from long distances. We got a few “insurance shots” and continued our search.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1562Snowy Owls have been wintering in the industrial areas of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin for many years. When I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early/mid 1980s, we would go down to the Port Terminal in the harbor (where all the warehouses and shipping docks were) and we could easily find a half dozen. There were probably a couple dozen wintering between there and Superior’s docks.

At that time, the harbor was a brushy mess crisscrossed by railroad tracks and dotted with junk piles and open garbage cans. It was the perfect environment for rabbits, pigeons, pheasants and rats…all great Snowy Owl food.
[All owl-in-flight shots taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens set at Shutter Priority 1/1250 second and auto ISO. ISO ranged from 640 to 800 and f-stop ranged from f5.6 to f8]

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1559
Less than a mile away, we found this stunning female/young male (You can’t really tell, but in general, the darker the bird the younger it is and more likely a female). Don’t get me wrong, I love the nearly pure white adult males, but the speckled patterning on this bird was very pleasing.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1561
Of course she sat on every ugly perch she could find…telephone pole, chain-link fence, scoreboard (see below). So we waited until she pooped. Why?, you might ask. Raptors always seem to “jettison” excess waste which is weight they don’t need to carry with them when they fly. Then she did and I held down the finger on my Canon 7D with the Canon 400mm f5.6 set to AI focus so the lens would continue to focus on the flying bird.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1569 FLATI couldn’t resist a little fun when I saw this Snowy land on the middle school’s baseball scoreboard. After all, she is a “guest from the tundra,” just with us for the winter!