Posts tagged ‘Sparky Stensaas’

Video—Dancing Chickens: Shooting with Sparky

A morning on the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Tympanuchus WMA in Northwest Minnesota; April 26, 2019
Advertisements

Easter Flower of the Prairie—Pasqueflowers bloom

April 26, 2019: Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County, Minnesota.

It had been several decades since I’d seen a blooming Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) [Othern synonyms: Anemone patens or Pulsatilla nuttalliana]. They are a true harbinger of spring on western prairies, and are often pushing up when snow still dots the landscape.

My main reason for driving 4 1/2 hours one-way from my homestead in Carlton County, Minnesota to the northwest corner of the state was to spend a morning with Greater Prairie-Chickens. I only had about 24 hours for the entire trip. But I wondered if I could get a bonus photo subject and find a clump of Pasqueflowers. I really didn’t think I’d find any, but while slowly cruising down a “Minimum Maintenance” dirt road, dots of color in the mainly brown landscape caught my eye. And, Yes!, it was a cluster of just blooming “Easter Flowers.”

It is the state flower of South Dakota and the Provincial flower of Manitoba. This species grows around the globe and can be found in the western U.S., Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China. Other names for this spring beauty are Prairie Crocus, Easter Flower, Windflower, Cutleaf Anemone, and Prairie Smoke in reference to its long wispy seed plumes.

The name Pasqueflower has its roots in the Christian celebration of Easter. The name for Easter in Latin and Greek is Pascha, and Hebrew Pasach,which originally referred to Passover. Many languages use this root for their current name for Easter (Påske in Norwegian, Pascua in Spanish, Pasqua in Italian, and Pâques in French). This flower gained its common name from its association with blooming at the time of Easter, likely in its range in Europe.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5453

Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge; Polk County, Minnesota

[Most photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm f4 lens (some with Canon 500D close up lens attached to 70-200mm lens]

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5459

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5417

 

anepat-1

Range of the Pasqueflower in Minnesota. Note that it is mainly a prairie/grassland species so is absent from Northeastern and Northcentral parts of the state.

anepat

Range of Pasqueflower in the U.S. It is also found in Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5514

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5411

I’ve never seen white Pasqueflowers! Interesting that this clump was the only white ones amidst many purple clusters (see photo below).

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN MG_5526

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5492

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5540

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5559

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5564

Franklin's Gull flock over Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5403

A flock of migrating Franklin’s Gulls over Glacial Ridge NWR. One of the most beautiful gulls in the world. They nest in massive colonies in remote marshes such as those in NW Minnesota’s Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and Thief Lake WMA. Tens of thousands may nest in the same marsh!

Chicken of the Prairie: A Morning in a Greater Prairie-Chicken Blind—Part 1

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4767

Greater Prairie-Chicken battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

April 26, 2019

Photographers and Birders never really get to enjoy the benefits of staying in a hotel. And this was true for me on Friday morning. I rolled in to Crookston, Minnesota late (after a 4 1/2 hour drive) and after packing my photo/video/sound gear it was already 11pm. Not much time to sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30am. No complimentary breakfast for spring/summer birders! Two granola bars would have to suffice. I had to be in the blind by 4:50am.

Even at that dark hour, the birds had beat me to the lek. Reflectors had marked the 300 yard path to the Greater Prairie-Chicken blind at Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area in Polk County, Minnesota (in the northwestern part of the state). Honestly it was one of the nicest grouse blinds I’ve ever been in. Spacious and roomy with semi-comfy stools, and even a plywood floor! But like all blinds constructed for the public and not specifically for photographers, it lacked a low-angle shooting window. Photographers like to get eye-level shots. It makes the images more intimate and helps isolate the subject from its background. The addition of two “shooting windows” about a foot off the floor/ground would be really nice.

But as spectacular as their displays are, the sounds these guys make are simply mesmerizing. Crazy cackles, hoots, booms against a background of overhead winnowing of snipe and singing Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks. I even heard a couple Greater Yellowlegs and a Marbled Godwit. A true spring chorus!

I am far more familiar with Sharp-tailed Grouse displays, and in comparison, the Prairie-Chickens dance less and fight more. Sharptails perform fancy footwork dance displays and inflate purple throat sacs. Greater Prairie-Chickens do less dancing and seem to rely more on their impressive yellow-pink throat sacs and erected feather tufts. They also seem to face off with other males frequently.

By 9am, the energy level had dissipated and the birds melted into the brushy landscape.

**I WILL POST A VIDEO, INCLUDING SOUNDS AND SLOW MOTION, OF THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN DISPLAYS SOON. STAY TUNED!

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5098

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

The male’s display is

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5166

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

At the peak of displaying, I counted about 15 Greater Prairie-Chickens…Maybe 12 males and 3 females. In this photo you can see 4 males displaying.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5113

Though there were no low angle shooting windows in the blind, I did manage to lay on my belly and shoot a couple shots under the canvas blind’s zippered door. I like the out of focus red dogwoods/willows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5123

Greater Prairie-Chicken male at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4941

Greater Prairie-Chicken males at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4601

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4918

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Prairie-Chickens are a bird of open prairie and brushy grasslands. This part of Minnesota has thousands of acres of such habitat preserved in many Nature Conservency sites, DNR Wildlife Management Areas and the massive Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (along the old beach line of Glacial Lake Agassiz).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens; 1/800 at f4; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4836

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The sun came up at 6:18am and the photography really kicked into high gear. I took over 1200 photos but “chimped and trashed” 700 of those, keeping about 500.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4887

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Love the head-on view!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4769

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Brief aerial “battles” were fairly common during my 4 hours in the blind. Most often they would face-off and then one would back off and wander away. But occasionally fights would erupt.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4768

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5011

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4979

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying n a shrub! at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Now here’s something you don’t see every day…A displaying Prairie-Chicken in a shrub!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5033

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5017

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5040

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4730

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4759

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying for female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4674

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4634

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4566

Greater Prairie-Chicken male in shrub at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4558

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 176mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Three males displaying just before the sun came up at 6:18am. They had been on the lek since before 5am and would continue until 9am. It takes a lot of energy to impress the ladies!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 70mm; 1/250 at f4; ISO 400; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4859

Greater Prairie-Chicken female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The females were more in evidence than at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek (in my experience). But I saw no mating taking place. She lacks the male’s fancy throat sacs and feather plumes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4878

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4430

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Not much to do photographically in the pre-dawn hour…Too dark. But what is fun is to slow your shutter speed way down and crank up the ISO and try some panning motion blurs. I got about 4 good photos that I’ve included here.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4384

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Love this motion blur at a very slow 1/3 of a second. I left the blue pre-twilight background but increased the white balance in the bird to a warmer hue. I do wish it was framed on the left instead of running out of the frame, but I can live with that.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/3 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4467

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4433

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

You can shoot before dawn! I love the artistic/painterly quality of these early morning motion blurs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5284

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/40 at f9; ISO 100; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5367

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5238

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Another front view of this amazing bird of the prairies.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5181

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

This young male (in front) was constantly trying to display in the center of the lek. But the older males (?) would immediately attack him and drive him from the center fo the lek to the fringes. They would even bite his back. I am assuming that he is just a younger individual and has not yet earned his rightful place.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4826

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

 

Canada Lynx Jinx Broken!

CANADA LYNX JINX BROKEN! Finally got to watch a Lynx in the daytime!

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-2

March 21 in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota. (Single frame plucked from video clip).

As I came over a rise, there it was…A Canada Lynx walking right towards me on a remote forest road. It was 9:30 am and sunny. It saw me and bounded off the road and into the 3-foot deep snow. I stayed put thinking that it might come my way via the pine woods. And after a few tense minutes of me second-guessing my intuition, it did!

Their giant oversized paws allow them to float over deep powder snow as they hunt their favorite prey…Snowshoe Hares.

My only other encounter was about 30 years ago while doing owl surveys at night with my friend Dave Benson. That one appeared in our headlights, just sitting in the road. They are very mellow cats, and are rarely in a hurry…Unless in hot pursuit of a hare!


2-minute video (photo is just a single frame from the video).

Watch the video to see it walking over the deep snow (click gear icon on bottom right to change resolution to higher quality).

 

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-4

Single frame plucked from video clip

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-1

Single frame plucked from video clip

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-3

Single frame plucked from video clip

Sparky’s Top 10 Mammal Photos of 2018

Bighorn Battle (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

Yes, I know that it is not a razor sharp image, but it is probably my favorite mammal photo of the whole year. Battling male Bighorns has been on my “Most Wanted” list for a long time, and Ryan and I stumbled on a bachelor herd that was doing some spring sparring. We only had a second to jump out and grab some shots. We followed them into the foothills but lost track of them and never saw more interactions. The actual rut won’t happen until late fall.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 100; hand-held]

Grizzly (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

Maybe not an exciting photo, but it is my first really good portrait of a Grizzly. Ryan and I waited at a carcass for a long time in order to see a Grizzly. This big boy finally arrived, swam/waded the river (that nearly swept him downstream) and started in on the carcass. He then wandered towards the gathered tourists and photographer. I really wanted him to step on this downed log, and he performed flawlessly.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/400 second at f4; ISO 1250; tripod]

Mountain Goat (Glacier National Park, Montana) July 2018

The only Mountain Goats I’ve ever seen were distant white specks in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Harney Peak) and in the northeast corner of Yellowstone, so it was very gratifying to see a small band up close on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. This one is searching for soil that is mineral/sodium rich. I like the pink/purple tone to the rocks and the half-shed winter coat.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/200 second at f7.1; ISO 400; hand-held]

Coyote in clover field (near Askov, Minnesota) September 1, 2018

Just before 8am this Coyote was still hunting this clover-filled meadow. He paused long enough for about 3 frames before heading for the woods. The early morning light and purple clover flowers helped slip this photo into the Top 10.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Ermine in my woodpile (Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota)

My first thoughts when this Ermine ran out of my garage and into the wood pile was, Oh no! …the chickens! But the chickens had spotted him first and were making it known that this was their turf. They weren’t going to back down. The Ermine stuck around for a couple days, probably feeding on voles or mice, and then disappeared. The Ermine is actually a Short-tailed Weasel. In winter they turn from brown to white and folks call them Ermine.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/200 second at f5.6; ISO 2000; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Snowshoe Hares (Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) March 26, 2018

Yes, I know I’m lame for including THREE Snowshoe Hare photos in my Top 10. But they are honestly some of my favorites from 2018…especially since I’d always wanted to get good images of them, and only had a few. Interestingly, this was in late March and one was still mostly white and the other well on its way to turning brown. The photo showing one jumping over the other was probably part of their courtship as they were chasing each other all over the bog. It looked like play.

TOP: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

MIDDLE: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 244mm; 1/500 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

BOTTOM: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 138mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 640; +1 ev; hand-held]

Black Bear sow and 3 cubs (Skogstjarna, our home, Carlton County, Minnesota) May 2018

We had visits from 6 different bears this spring/early summer at our home. This sow came with her 3 tiny cubs to check out our feeders (which were empty). Twins are more common than triplets in Black Bears. This is just an iPhone photo taken through our living room window. Fortunately, Bridget and the boys were able to enjoy the show.

Coyote working the fence line  (Galesburg, Illinois) March 2018

One of a pair of Coyotes working a rural fenceline in Illinois. It really blends in. I like this image because of the camouflage of the Coyote and the splash of color in the monochrome early spring landscape from the red barn.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 332mm; 1/800 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

 

Uinta Ground Squirrel (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 28, 2018

A nice portrait of a Uinta Ground Squirrel. The blue background is not sky, but rather the cool shade of distant mountains. I also like the colorful foreground rock lichens.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/800 second at f4; ISO 200; hand-held]

 

 

Sparky’s Top 10 Creative Wildlife Photos of 2018

I am bored of “bird on stick” photos…but I still take them. Every year I strive to get more creative with my wildlife photography. It’s often not easy to do….or at least not easy to remember to do something different. Get the portrait, but then think about how else you can shoot the subject…silhouette? slow shutter? animal-in-landscape? Of course, you can also get creative in “post” and do some interesting crops, or possibly convert an image to black and white. Have fun and play around!

Kingbird sunset silhouette (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

Smoke from Canadian forest fires made much of the day a hazy mess…making photography difficult. But as the sun set it turned into a fiery ball in the west. Now if I could find a subject to silhouette! Fortunately an Eastern Kingbird landed in a roadside bush. Not the most interesting pose to silhouette, but I love the contrast between the deep blue twilight sky and orange fireball sun.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 at f7.1; ISO 640; -2.0ev; hand-held]

Wild Horse (feral) in Teddy Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) April 30, 2018

A creative crop of a very curious wild horse (feral horse). I love their wild, human-like hair and big expressive eyes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swans (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 30, 2018

A black-and-white conversion that works well with these white subjects. Trumpeters are very curious and will sometimes swim towards you…A very nice behavior for photographers!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 200; hand-held]

Red-winged Blackbird sunrise (Tobin-Kimmes Wetlands, Douglas County, Wisconsin) May 12, 2018

I was looking for a different photo on this spring morning, but you always have to be open to other opportunities. The catkin-laced branches of this willow add to the image, as does the singing and displaying male Red-winged Blackbird.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f11; ISO 100; hand-held]

Sandhill Cranes and full moon (Crex Meadows Wildlife Refuge, Grantsburg, Wisconsin) October 22, 2018

Sandhill Cranes were streaming in to their nighttime watery roost at Crex Meadows as the nearly-full moon was rising. Many photographers had come to try and get crane-moon photos. This was my favorite as the cranes are very sharp and the sky had a tinge of purple.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 400; -1.0ev; tripod]

Tundra Swans (Upper Mississippi NWR, Brownsville, Minnesota) November 17, 2018

I wanted to see what would happen with a very long exposure (13 seconds on a tripod) as some Tundra Swans were still and some were still swimming around. I got this interesting photo of sharp sleeping swans and long white streaks showing the 13-second path of the swimming swans.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 13 seconds at f20; ISO 100; +1.66 ev; tripod]

Three displaying  Wild Turkey toms (Carlton County, Minnesota) May 29, 2018

It was a blah morning with gray skies when I ran across three tom Turkeys displaying on a dirt road. I positioned myself so I could silhouette their whole bodies against the sky. I then pushed the white balance slider all the way to the right in Lightroom (warmer=more yellow/orange)…Voila! Instant sunrise sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 at f7.1; ISO 640; -2.0ev; hand-held]

Bison fur detail (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 28, 2018

Love the texture of Bison hair.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens with Canon 2x teleconverter; 1/640 at f4; ISO 400; hand-held]

High key Sandhill Cranes in frosty field (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 27, 2018

Some photos you don’t think much about when you take them. But when you see them on your computer at home, some really strike your fancy. I liked both the position of the feeding cranes and the frosty grass. To make it a “high key” photo, I adjusted the white levels in Lightroom until the background became totally clipped (blown out…absolute white).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens with Canon 2x teleconverter; 1/500 at f4; ISO 200; hand-held]

Eastern Bluebird at Nana’s farm (Galesburg, Illinois) March 30, 2018

Just a quirky photo of an Eastern Bluebird and its silhouette on a barn wall.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 373mm; 1/1000 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

Mayflies at Midnight (St. Louis River, Fond du Lac Bridge, Duluth, Minnesota) July 12, 2018

Hexagenia Mayflies emerge en masse from large rivers in mid summer. Some years are bigger than others, and 2018 was a big year along the St. Louis River near Duluth. This is a long exposure of thousands of mayflies flying about a street light on the bridge. Their floppy flight makes interesting light patterns during the 1/4 second exposure.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4 second at f5.6; ISO 400; -1.0ev; hand-held, braced on car door frame]

Wild Turkey feathers up close (Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota)

Taken out my living room window! Love the iridescence on these stunning creatures.

 

Sparky’s Top-Ten Bird Photos of 2018

 

Okay, I’m cheating a bit on my Top 10 and have selected an extra two photos, so here is my 12 favorite bird images from 2018.

Eastern Kingbird feeding young (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I love Felton Prairie. It is a dry gravel prairie on the “Glacial Ridge” of western Minnesota. It is (was?) known as the only nesting site of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the state. I spent about an hour with this late-nesting Eastern Kingbird family (this was mid August).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Barred Owl on Owl Avenue (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) April 2, 2018

This photo was taken near dusk on a lonely bog-bordered road in the Sax-Zim Bog. I like the monotone feel of the photo. I also like that the owl is NOT looking at me, but watching (listening?) intently on something out of frame.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 203mm; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 3200]

Mature male Snowy Owl on hay bale (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) December 17, 2018

The very small size and very white plumage of this Snowy Owl indicates that this is an older male bird. It has been hunting the same fields in the Sax-Zim Bog for about a month. He often perches on hay bales, scanning the countryside for voles. I like the stark contrast between the white owl and the pink sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Bohemian Waxwing in Mountain-Ash (Two Harbors, Minnesota) November 12, 2018

I’ve photographed many Bohemian Waxwings over the years, but usually in crabapple trees, so I wanted to get photos and video of one in a Mountain-Ash (a native species). I found a small flock in a huge Mountain-Ash (that I’ve looked in many times before) in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota.

I only shot video, but was able to pull this still-image out of a 4K video clip.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens

Great Gray Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) February 27, 2018

Great Grays are amazing photo subjects…even if they are just staring into the snow. I had spend over an hour just watching this one sit in an aspen…waiting for it do something…anything! Then when I wasn’t ready (of course!), it launched into the air and plunged face first into the deep ditch snow only 20 yards from me. But it didn’t catch the vole on the plunge but it could still hear it under the deep snow. I slowly crawled over to the ditch and laid flat on the snow to get this eye-level shot. The Great Gray in this photo is not really looking into the snow, but rather listening by facing its huge facial disks towards the sound. Ear holes that are a slightly different size and shape can triangulate sound in order to pinpoint prey.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held while laying flat on the snow.]

Sanderling in near-breeding plumage (Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota) May 22, 2018

Shorebirds along the sandy beaches of Lake Superior are one of my favorite subjects. Most are heading to breeding grounds on the tundra of the Far North. This makes them seem more exotic and interesting. Sanderlings are one of the most common shorebirds on the beaches of Duluth’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point.

This one is in near breeding plumage with reddish head and breast. We usually see them in their white plumage as small flocks scoot ahead of us as we walk down the beach. I crawled through the sand to get in front of the Sanderlings and then would remain still as they worked their way towards me. I like this unique head-on angle.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held while laying flat on the sand.]

Great Gray Owl in heavy snow (Duluth, Minnesota) January 30, 2018

There was a mini-irruption of Great Gray Owls just north of Duluth last winter. In fact this guy was hunting right in the city limits of Duluth along Old Superior Street. I got to film him (her?) making several plunges into the deep but crusty snow. It was able to break through the crust to get at voles below.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Male Bufflehead (St. Louis River at Fond du Lac in Duluth, Minnesota) April 23, 2018

Every year when the ice goes out on the St. Louis River I try and get some eye-level (ice-level?) shots of waterfowl in their spring splendor. The ice went out quite late this year as this photo was taken in late April. Buffleheads are really difficult to photograph because they dive frequently. And it is very hard to capture the iridescence of their head feathers. They usually look all black and white. But the sun angle was just right for this photo to reveal the rainbow iridescence.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held while laying on the shoreline ice]

Eastern Kingbird catching grasshopper in mid-air (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I honestly just got lucky with this shot. I love images of grassland birds on old fence posts or rusty barbed wire fences (both of which are disappearing from the rural landscape) so I took some photos of this Eastern Kingbird. But I decided to wait patiently

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Three immature Bald Eagles (Douglas County, Wisconsin) April 9, 2018

A perfectly-arranged trio of subadult Bald Eagles in northwest Wisconsin. It takes 3-5 years for a Bald Eagle to attain its pristine white head and tail feathers. The bottom bird is probably a 2nd year bird, and the tip bird may be a 3rd year bird due to its Osprey-like face mask. The middle bird is also probably a 3rd year bird. I’m sure there was a road-killed deer somewhere nearby.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f7.1; ISO 320; hand-held from car window]

White-faced Ibis (Yellowstone National Park) April 30, 2018

I rarely get to see these birds but they migrate through Yellowstone National Park in the spring. This one was feeding on a newly-thawed pond. The sad part of this story is that I dropped a rented 2x teleconverter out of the car while trying to get out and photograph this bird. The fall put a scratch in the lens. I then had to buy the 2x from lensrentals.com. But I guess I’m glad to own this high-end teleconverter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 IS USM lens with 1.4x teleconverter;  1/250 second at f2.8; ISO 400; hand-held]

Snowy Owl (South Superior, Wisconsin) January 5, 2018

If I’d shot this photo with a wide-angle lens, you would have seen a gravel pit, railroad tracks and car repair place in the frame. This Snowy Owl was hunting in a semi-industrial area of Superior, Wisconsin. I waded through the deep snow to reach the spruce and began filming. The owl completely ignored me, but after about 10 minutes some distant movement caught its eye and off it went. I like the wing position as it lifts off.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.66ev; hand-held]