Posts tagged ‘St. Louis River’

Pelican Stopover in the North Woods

Every spring for the last several years, a flock of American White Pelicans has stopped over along the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota. Here they find a couple ideal loafing islands in mid river and I suppose, good fishing. Arriving in late April, they usually depart by mid May. In 2017, they showed up on April 19th and departed by mid May. They are easily visible from the Fond du Lac Bridge that joins Minnesota and Wisconsin. I imagine these flocks are headed to major breeding colonies at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, but I’m not positive.

Am White Pelicans IMG_0006647

A flock of American White Pelicans has made the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota (and nearby Wisconsin portion of the river) a spring stopover on their way to breeding grounds farther north. There are fewer than 70 breeding colonies in North America (50 in Canada, 18 in the U.S.), with 3 in Minnesota. Of course, some of these colonies are massive! They are considered a Species of Special Concern in Minnesota.

“The American white pelican formerly ranged throughout much of Minnesota, with nesting documented as far east as Aitkin County in 1904. The species declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, largely due to human persecution (Wires et al. 2005). There were no reports of nesting in the state after 1878 (Roberts 1932) until 70 nests were found at Marsh Lake in Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties in 1968. Nesting was limited to less than 10 colonies in the early 1980s, and the species was subsequently listed as special concern in 1984. In the 1990s, nesting was confirmed in several additional areas. Large numbers of non-breeding adults are also regularly seen on other Minnesota lakes throughout the summer. Although there is evidence of an increasing population in Minnesota, it might best be viewed as a recolonization of its former range (Wires et al. 2005). Colonial breeding habits and occupancy of a small number of breeding sites make white pelicans particularly vulnerable to decline, meriting special concern status. The Marsh Lake colony is the largest known colony in North America, giving it continent-wide significance (Wires et al. 2005).” [from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us]

American White Pelican flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac MN IMG_0006699

The “horn” is only grown for the breeding season…It disappears after that. [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican group with bills up St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06925

“Pelicans are big birds that can overheat when they’re out in the hot sun. They shed heat by facing away from the sun and fluttering their bill pouches—which contain many blood vessels to let body heat escape. Incubating parents may also stretch their wings wide to aid cooling.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]. I’m actually not sure if this is what is happening in this photo as at this exact moment a Ring-billed Gull flew directly over this group’s heads…Could it be an aggressive posture?

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100]

map American White Pelican North America Distribution Cornell

Range of the American White Pelican in North America [from Cornell]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06899

“Pelicans are skillful food thieves. They steal from other pelicans trying to swallow large fish and are successful about one-third of the time. They also try to steal prey from Double-crested Cormorants that are bringing fish to the surface. In their dense nesting colonies, some birds even steal the food that a parent on an adjacent nest has disgorged for its young.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 200; -1 ev]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06929

“Contrary to cartoon portrayals and common misconceptions, pelicans never carry food in their bill pouches. They use them to scoop up food but swallow their catch before flying off” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican pair St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0006630

[Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St Louis R Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_8295

Population Information:

  1. North America population estimate: 67,030 breeding pairs (1998-2001; King and Anderson 2005)
  2. Minnesota population estimate: 15,824 breeding pairs breeding at 16 different colony sites (Wires, Haws and Cuthbert 2005: The Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican in Minnesota: A Statewide Status Assessment)
  3. Minnesota has one of the largest North American colonies at Marsh Lake; over 80% of the state’s population occurs in this location

[Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/320 at f8; ISO 400]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Chamber's Grove Park Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_7024

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Chamber's Grove Park Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_7035

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0017

“American while pelicans are a monogamous species, and most likely pair each year on their breeding grounds. Adults begin breeding when three years old. They perform a variety of flying and walking courtship displays, and select a nest site within a dense colony. Colonies are mainly located on isolated islands, also occupied by gulls and cormorants. A pelican colony can consist of thousands of birds (Evans and Knopf 1993). After courtship, each pair builds a nest by scraping gravel, soil, or vegetation to form a shallow depression. The bottom of the nest may contain little or no insulation. A clutch of two eggs is common. Both males and females take turns to continuously incubate and guard the eggs until they hatch, usually about 30 days later. The young are altricial. The first chick to hatch frequently harasses the younger sibling, causing it to leave the nest early or move to an area of the nest where it is fed less often. Second chicks often die of starvation, predation, or exposure. Adults feed chicks by regurgitating food into their beak pouch, where it is made accessible to the chicks. Parents continuously brood nestlings for about 17-25 days. As parents begin leaving nests unattended, groups of chicks huddle together for warmth, forming a pod or creche. These pods may also serve as protection from predators (Evans and Knopf 1993). The young walk from the nest at about 26 days, and fly after 62-63 days. [from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0029

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0046

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0057

I am trying to find out where this Pelican was banded. This photo was taken on May 6, 2013.American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0080

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0082

Did you know that the American White Pelican has arguably the LONGEST WINGSPAN OF ANY BIRD IN NORTH AMERICA? Well, at least it’s a close competition… The California Condor is almost exactly the same wingspan…NINE FEET!

According to The Sibley Guide to Birds, here are the North American birds with WINGSPANS OVER SEVEN FEET.

  1. California Condor—109″
  2. American White Pelican—108″
  3. Greater Frigatebird—90″
  4. Whooping Crane—87″
  5. Short-tailed Albatross—87″
  6. Black-footed Albatross—84″
  7. Bald Eagle—80″
  8. Trumpeter Swan—80″
  9. Golden Eagle—79″
  10. Brown Pelican—79″
  11. Laysan Albatross—78″
  12. Sandhill Crane—77″
  13. Mute Swan—76″
  14. Great Blue Heron—72″

Some more wingspans of large North American birds…

Turkey Vulture (67″), Great Black-backed Gull (65″), Flamingo (60″), Great Gray Owl (52″)

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0095

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0106

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9939

“American White Pelicans cooperate when feeding. Sometimes, large groups gather in wetlands. They coordinate their swimming to drive schooling fish toward the shallows. The pelicans can then easily scoop up these corralled fish from the water.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9999

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelicans St. Louis River Fond du Lac MN IMG_0006664

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f9; ISO 200]

Christmas Coyote

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1439
CALLING IN A CANID
I drive over the bridge spanning the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac/Duluth (MN) at least 4 times a week, and I always check for eagles, otters, or whatever else might be utilizing this wild stretch of river. A couple days ago, I spotted something running along the far shore…but I was driving and it was so far away that I couldn’t tell if it was an otter, fox, coyote or wolf. I stopped and backed up so I could get the binoculars on it. But it was gone. Not sure why, but I decided to give a few calls on my Johnny Stewart predator call (that I always keep in my car). Almost instantly a Coyote came around the bend in the river, running towards the bridge on the frozen river.

I hustled back to the car, grabbed my camera with 400mm lens (which is also ALWAYS in my car) and hid behind the snow bank up against the bridge railing. Conveniently there was a hole in the snow bank where I could look through the bridge railing. She was coming fast and I tried to start shooting but my lens had frosted over. Frantically I tried to scrape the ice off the front of my lens with my glove (not usually a recommended practice!), then I tried shooting again but the lens would not focus! I found that I had the camera set to AI Servo focus mode and quickly switched it to Single Shot focus, which worked. In the process, I had breathed on the viewfinder and fogged it up…And now I couldn’t find the Coyote while looking through the camera! All this happened in a few seconds and by now the Coyote had slowed to a trot. I gave a few more calls (imitating what, I’m not sure!). A quick swipe of the viewfinder allowed me a passable view and I quickly started shooting, trusting that my autofocus was doing its job!

Well, that Coyote never saw me and came to a stop right underneath me, trying to figure out where the “wounded rabbit” was. I couldn’t resist a couple shots looking straight down on her from 40 feet above (NOT a good angle for wildlife photography!). And as I peeked over the top of the snow bank, she saw me and trotted off, turning back a couple times to make sure she hadn’t missed an easy meal. I really wished I had a dead rabbit to throw to her. As you can see, she was a beautiful animal. (Not sure if the Coyote was a male or female, but I choose to call it “her”)
Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1424[Taken looking straight down from the bridge…40 feet (?) above the river]
SHUTTER PRIORITY SURE THING
This was the perfect scenario for shooting with Shutter Priority. It was fairly early in the morning and overcast. I knew I wanted sharp Coyote images. If I’d had my camera set to Aperture Priority, I may have ended up with slower shutter speeds and the Coyote would be blurred. Yes, the image might be less “noisy,” but I’d rather have a sharp, useable, noisy image, then a blurred, un-useable, cleaner image that I’d delete anyway. So I set the camera to Shutter Priority 1/400 second (a compromise, to be sure, as it would freeze a walking/trotting Coyote but not a running Coyote) and Auto ISO. The camera automatically keeps the aperture at f5.6, 1/400 and lets the ISO range up and down…In this case from ISO 1000 to 1600. These settings allowed me to get sharp images in low light. This portrait was taken at ISO 1600 on a Canon 7D—a camera not known for its high ISO capabilities…and you don’t even notice the digital noise.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1428

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1384BIONIC HEARING
When I got home that evening, I calculated that the Coyote had heard my mouth call from 1/3 of a mile away! Never underestimate the senses of wild critters…Deer hunters know this very well! I do feel bad that this Coyote expended energy on a “wild goose chase,”…and I will not use this call on a Coyote in this area again this winter. I really only use the Johnny Stewart predator call when I see a critter duck into the woods and I try and get them back out into the open. My success rate is probably 2 to 5%.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1401

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1432HIGH KEY IMAGES
In these two images, I blew out the whites in Photoshop. I didn’t really need any detail in the snow and I like the look. So I moved the right slider in the Levels palette to the left until it completely clipped the whites.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1381

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1446I really like “Animal in the Landscape” shots. These two are examples of that. It places your critter in its habitat and maybe tells more of a story than a “head and shoulders” shot.

[ALL IMAGES: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 (handheld but braced on snowbank), Tv (Shutter Priority) 1/400 second at f5.6. Auto ISO (ISO ranged between ISO 1000 to 1600 for these images)]

Flood 2012—Jay Cooke State Park’s MANGLED Swinging Bridge

This is my flood video from Jay Cooke State Park…only a few miles from our house [Taken morning of June 22nd].
The swinging bridge is normally about 25 feet above the river this time of year! (see below photo for “normal” water levels and span)
It is a suspension bridge that spans 126 feet of river. The stone support pillars were built by the CCC but the bridge itself was replaced after the 1950 flood.
The river set a new all-time record flood height yesterday, eclipsing the 1950 spring-runoff flood. That’s what 9 inches of rain in 24 hours will do!

Monochrome Swans

I drive over the bridge that spans the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac nearly every day…And the scene is rarely the same. And this day was no exception. With temps in the 60s and even 70s recently, the snow has melted and the river is opening up. And when the river opens up, the migrant birds appear instantly. Often my first spring Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Flicker, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, and Trumpeter Swans are seen/heard from the bridge. On this day, dense fogs created a dreamscape of gray and white. The silhouetted trees and islands really make the shot. I like the shape of the sweeping horizontal limbs on the right. It took many shots to get both Trumpeter Swans with their heads up since they feed almost constantly, heads submerged. I also like the 3 Canada Geese just loafing on the “iceberg.” I tweaked the color balance to the blue side to add a bit of a feeling of winter turning to spring. Moody!

[Note: This image looks better the larger it is, so click on it once to see a larger image, then click again to see it at its max size.]

Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens, tripod

Lovey Dovey River Otters

Well, it is Valentine’s Day after all…and the pair of River Otters appears to be a cuddly couple, nuzzling, hugging, rolling around together. But now the romantics may want to quit reading and just watch the video, as the lovey dovey couple is probably a female and last year’s pup. Males and females don’t stick together very long after mating. Most groups of multiple otters we see are probably mom and offspring. Sorry.

But their behavior is quite interesting. You see quite a bit of preening and allopreening (mutual preening in social animals that helps maintain bonds). Otters must preen often to keep their fur waterproof. They dry it off by rolling in the snow or ice, then “comb” the fur with their claws, and rub oils from their underfur into the hairs. They are also rather vocal…”talking” with chortles, snuffles, snorts, huffs, and growls. You’ll also see them munching minnows…On this day I didn’t witness them eating any other food.

This video was shot last week on the St. Louis River only about 7 miles from my house. I cross the river every day on the way to preschool/work and there are often River Otters lounging on the ice near open leads.