Posts tagged ‘Sparky Stensaas’

FIVE OWL SPECIES Mink Bobcat Ermine Wolf

Virtually Live 25 S2E10

In this episode of Virtually Live from the Sax-Zim Bog, Sparky Stensaas shares his favorite sightings from the last month, including FIVE SPECIES OF OWLS, MINK, BOBCAT, ERMINE & WOLF! All in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota from early February through early March.

Encounters with FIVE different owl species in Sax-Zim are highlighted… An adorable Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts below a feeder; A Great Gray plunges into the snow and pulls up a vole; chickadees help him find a Barred Owl soaking up the sun at Fringed Gentian Bog; a Snowy Owl NOT on a power pole!; and a Northern Hawk Owl returns to the Bog and performs and preens for the camera.

Sparky also shares some ETIQUETTE for watching and enjoying Great Grays without disturbing them.

In additIon, we watch a Mink hunt for fish, see an Ermine in hunting mode and enjoy a Bobcat just sitting there.

We also make a stop at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center to see what’s happening there: Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls in slow motion.

And lots more!

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]

SE Arizona Birding  & Bird Photography Madera & Box Canyon

Join Sparky Stensaas in southeast Arizona in July for some birding and bird photography. Mount Lemmon, Box Canyon, Madera Canyon. Highlights include Elegant Trogon, Five-striped Sparrow, Varied Bunting, Lucifer Hummingbird, Botteri’s Sparrow, Hooded Oriole and much more.

Virtually Live 17: S2E2 May 8, 2021

May Birding Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live 17 S2E2 May 8 2021

Sparky takes you along on an “early” spring birding trip in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. Only 25 degrees at the start, but the good birds warm things up…stunning male Black-and-white Warbler, lingering Evening Grosbeaks, Yellow Warbler, cooperative Merlin, and a very unexpected Great Gray Owl.

We also check in on the highlights from the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog “Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night” field trip (can you say “cooperative Great Gray”!). Also a cacophony of frogs (4 species), displaying Snipe and more.

And we see how we discovered a $500 bill and a blond woman’s wig in the Bog. What?!!

You never know what surprises might accompany an episode of Virtually Live!

Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

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+

Virtually Live 15 Polar Vortex & The Wolf: Birding Sax-Zim Bog Feb 2021

[**I apologize to all my subscribers…I sometimes forget to post to my thephotonaturalist.com blog. Lately I’ve been posting everything to Facebook, Instagram and other social media, but forget to post here! This is one example. The Polar Vortex has moved on (about TWELVE days being below zero…only a few hours above zero during that entire time!) but I’m just getting around to putting Virtually Live 15 up here. So I promise to pay more attention to this blog in the upcoming year. Thanks!]

Put another log on the fire and enjoy this bitterly cool “Polar Vortex” episode of Virtually Live from Sax-Zim Bog!

Filmed over several days including the morning of February 11 with a record cold Minus-46F start to the day. Yikes!

How do our boreal birds survive this brutal weather? Sparky shares some physiological tricks our feathered fluffballs employ.

Then we flashback to warmer days and snowshoe with Sparky in Yellow-bellied Bog where he discovers an avian excavation. He then flashesback within the flashback to tell the tale of his wolf encounter in the woods.

We also visit the Welcome Center, Admiral Road feeders, Auggie’s Bogwalk at Fringed Gentian to see what birds and mammals are out and about in the below zero temps. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

Cameos by Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, Northern Hawk Owl, Evening Grosbeak, redpolls and even an Ermine.

Thinking like a Wolf… or just lucky (photos & video)

December 30, 2020

As Executive Director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, I sometimes have to run supplies up to the Welcome Center, and on today’s early afternoon jaunt I spotted a Coyote crossing the road a long ways ahead. I pulled over and waited, but I wasn’t too excited since on every trip to Yellowstone we seem to get our fill of “yote photos.”

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

I squeaked to try and get it to come back out of the woods. It did, and to my surprise the “Coyote” turned out to be a Timber Wolf! 

I knew from previous experience that they will sometimes parallel roads while hunting, so I pulled ahead slowly and stopped at a game trail that gave me a bit of a window towards the bog. And sure enough, I saw just the back of a wolf quickly move across the trail.

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

Now I was getting a bit more confident that I could intercept one of the rarest (or at least rarely seen) of Minnesota’s abundant wildlife. About a half mile up I found a trail I figured it would cross. It was about 15 feet wide and I quietly got out of my van. The woods were silent under the still of last nights 6 inches of snow. 

I walked about a hundred yards in and waited. Sure enough a couple minutes later the wolf appeared! But instead of simply crossing the trail and vanishing, it turned and took a few steps toward me. It couldn’t figure out what I was, which enabled me to get a minute of video and photos. I imagine it was 50 yards away. Amazing experience! Magical experience! You never know what is around any bend in Sax-Zim!

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; handheld]

Video of Timber Wolf Sax-Zim Bog Minnesota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens; 1/500 second at f8; ISO 1000; handheld

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 270mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020
Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 270mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; handheld]

Ghostly Great Horned Owl: Visitor from the Subarctic (video & photos)

December 27, 2020

A few days ago I went to see this pale beauty! Its been on my “owl bucket list” for a long time. Especially gratifying since I searched three times for the subarctic at Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, Minnesota a few years ago.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 5000; +1.0ev; tripod]

After a 4 hour drive from our homestead on the Wisconsin border of Minnesota, I arrived on the complete opposite side of the state on the North Dakota border. I had just about an hour before the sun set.

A wildlife photography friend had tipped me off to the location of this stunner. It had been seen on and off for a couple months. But as I began searching the numbers trees in the woods along the Red River of the North I started wondering if I would really find it.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

But then there it was! On a tree I thought I had looked at on my way in. Wow! What a pale beauty! The Subarctic (or Western Taiga) subspecies of Great Horned Owl is very pale or even white with black markings. But the disc around the eyes almost always shows some color. They can be mistaken for Snowy Owls if it weren’t for this trait (and of course their feather “horns” which on Snowies are tiny and usually hidden).

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 343mm; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 12,800; +0.0ev; tripod]

This boreal subspecies occasionally may mate and nest in northwestern Minnesota. This bird appeared to be a male since it seemed smaller in size. Females are significantly larger than males.

Thanks again to Matt Sorum who found this in Clay County a couple months ago!

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 428mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +1.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 363mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; +0.3ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 6400; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 254mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +2.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/125 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

HD Video of Subarctic Great Horned Owl

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Virtually Live 13 Christmas Bird Count Sax-Zim Bog: Great Gray Owl, Fisher, Short-eared Owl Dec 2020

My 35th year as compiler of the Sax-Zim Christmas Bird Count turned out to be a record-breaker despite teams having to social distance. 13 hardy participants brave -10 below zero F windchills in northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog to turn up 39 species!

We also find a species NEVER recorded on the count before (revealed in the video). And I find several owls and gets some crazy cool images of a Great Gray Owl plummeting and pouncing on suspected vole victims.

We find Boreal Chickadees, accidentally film some Black-billed Magpies at the “Bison Farm,” make a visit to Loretta’s grosbeak-rich feeders and have a yummy lunch at the Wilbert Cafe.

I also share some exciting recent sightings of a Fisher chasing Snowshoe Hare and a Short-eared Owl on Stone Lake Road.

Thanks to all CBC Participants: Bill Tefft, Lori Williams, Frank Nicoletti, Abbie Valine, Dave David Benson, Lars Benson, John Ellis, Sparky Stensaas, Sarah Beaster, Clinton Dexter-Nienhaus, Kristina Dexter-Nienhaus, Tony Anthony Hertzel, Tommy Hertzel

Virtually Live 10: LeConte’s Sparrows in flowers— Birding Sax-Zim Bog MN

This August 2020 episode explores Northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog in late summer. In this episode we go birding in the “slow” time of year. But a couple cooperative LeConte’s Sparrows in a flower-filled field steal the show. We also stop by Nichols Lake/Lake Nichols and bird the bog stretch of Admiral Road where we find Boreal Chickadees, Palm Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada jays and more.

Sparky also shows us the new platform and bench on Gray Jay Way trail north of the Welcome Center. And we go on a kayak journey on the Whiteface River where a pair of shy River Otters briefly make an appearance. Stunning emerald green and black Ebony Jewelwing damselflies perch along the riverbank.