Posts tagged ‘Top Ten’

Top Ten 2016 Creative Wildlife Images

I get bored with pretty portraits of wildlife, but I often fall into the routine of just filling the frame with the critter and not paying attention to composition, landscape and other creative ideas to pump a little life into my wildlife images. And I must admit, I didn’t make creativity a priority this year (2016). Let’s hope I can do better in ’17. But here are my “Top Thirteen” favorites…

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5287-1Bighorns play King of the Hill; Yellowstone National Park.
One of the wondrous things about Yellowstone is that you can observe wildlife going about their lives as if you were invisible. A century of protection has allowed critters the luxury of not being fearful of man. And so it was with this bachelor herd of Bighorn Sheep. The big old rams were laying down, resting, but the younger rams were playing “king of the hill,” taking turns knocking each other off this bluff-top boulder. By moving low, and slow, but in plain sight, we were able to get close enough to get some shots (and video) and enjoy their antics. Even though it was mid-April, many months removed from the rut, it was obvious that they were all still vying for position and dominance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5989Bighorn; Yellowstone National Park.
Kind of an Escher-esque image…It would be perfect if the left Bighorn was a couple inches farther right…But it’s unique enough as is. I like it for some odd reason.

bison-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6336Bison; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
I’d say this is my favorite image of 2016. Ryan and I were shooting along a backroad of “Teddy” before the sunrise, getting some cool subtle silhouettes…then the sun rose and we assumed we should move on so we would not be shooting into the sun. But It was a cool morning and I saw the breath from this Bison backlit and knew it would be a neat shot. So I hustled into a position where the Bison’s body would block the sun and backlight all the breath and steam coming off his body. I tweaked the white balance to add some “sunrise gold” color into the scene.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 158mm; 1/2000 sec at f22; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

rough-legged-hawk-along-cr29-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9069-1Rough-legged Hawk, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Mid October is a beautiful time in the Sax-Zim Bog…the Tamaracks are at their peak yellow-gold color and migrant hawks can be seen overhead. This bird-in-the-landscape photo captures both these fall highlights. Rough-legs breed in the Arctic, but move south in late fall. They hunt small rodents by hovering and watching…and that is exactly what this Rough-leg is doing. Sometimes the small-bird-in-big-landscape shot works well, and I think it does here.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

black-tern-thief-lake-wma-marshall-co-mn-img_1105Black Tern and Cattails; Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, Marshall County, Minnesota.
Did you do a double-take when first seeing this image? The cattails are only a reflection in a dead calm pond.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

bohemian-waxwing-wrenshall-city-park-crabapples-wrenshall-mn-img_2010Bohemian Waxwing; Wrenshall, Minnesota.
Kind of a blah photo straight out of the camera…but I saw some potential in it. I turned the gray skies into a dramatic white background by blowing out the whites in Aperture and Photoshop…then I “erased” a stray branch to strengthen the composition.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

coyote-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5688Coyote; Yellowstone National Park.
How often can you say you laid in the middle of the road to get a shot of a Coyote running at you? I wanted to get the canid right in the middle of the yellow lines so I laid right in the middle of the road. Strange composition but kind of fun.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/500 at f6.3; ISO 160; handheld]

img_1103-1Ducks and rushes, Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, NW Minnesota.
I reduced this image to its most important elements…the shapes of the rushes and the ducks in flight. I simply converted the image to black-and-white and clipped the whites in Photoshop.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

ivory-gull-juvenile-canal-park-duluth-mn-img_9439Ivory Gull, Duluth’s Canal Park, Minnesota.
A very rare bird in front of a very famous lighthouse. A bird-in-the-landscape photo with a twist. The Ivory Gull is an elusive small gull of the High Arctic…It is rare even in its breeding range! But sightings in the Lower 48 are very rare. And last winter there were TWO in the area. Birders came from all over the country to add this bird to their “Life List.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 98mm; 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 200; +2/3 EV; handheld]

little-blue-heron-st-louis-river-western-waterfront-trail-duluth-mn-img_7487Little Blue Heron, St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
Does something look strange about this photo? It should…It’s upside down! I like the painterly quality the flipped reflection gives this image.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

red-tailed-hawk-and-moon-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_3979Red-tailed Hawk; Yellowstone National Park.
This Red-tailed Hawk ruined my image of the moon! Just kidding…
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm;

trout-hatchery-durango-colorado-img_3558Trout, Durango, Colorado.
A slow shutter speed makes for a stylized photo of a swimming trout at the hatchery.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 200mm; 1/6 second at f32; ISO 100; handheld]

wild-turkey-skogstjarna-wrenshall-mn-img_2903Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
To get this extreme wide angle shot, I set my camera with a 10mm lens on a mini-tripod outside my back window with a remote trigger attached. When the turkeys came in for some cracked corn, I remotely tripped the shutter (from the comfort of my easy-chair!). Note the displaying Tom in the background. I have not yet perfected this idea, but hope to work on it more in 2017.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens at 13mm; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; remotely triggered from inside the house]

Top Ten Bird Photos 2016

This is an exercise I do every January…Pick my favorite nature images from the previous year. And I obviously don’t limit it to 10 images…It’s just too painful. So here is my “Top Eighteen” bird images of 2016. I’m also going to do a “Top Ten” for my favorite Creative Wildlife Images and Mammals.
I’m not saying these are the images that YOU are going to like best…nor are they images that are technically perfect, but they are, for various reasons, my favorites. So here they are in no particular order…

northern-cardinal-male-in-flowering-crabapple-mom-and-dads-house-new-hope-mn-img_6658Northern Cardinal, New Hope, Minnesota.
Do red and pink compliment each other? …or clash? I don’t mind the color combo of the red Northern Cardinal and pink-flowered crabapple in this photo…but I do think the touch of blue sky helps.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

american-goldfinche-img_8038American Goldfinch, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Would you be surprised if I told you I took this from the comfort of a camp chair in my yard? Well, I was in a blind, and the “pond” is actually a pool made from a 4×8 sheet of plywood and some 2x4s….an infinity pool for birds! I love how the yellow of the sunflowers matches the Goldfinch’s plumage. I was hoping for a better pose and head position but I’ll take it.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

barred-owl-cr18-near-hebron-cemetery-aitkin-co-mn-img_1504Barred Owl, Aitkin County, Minnesota.
Okay, to be honest, I was looking for Great Gray Owls when this Barred Owl appeared along a remote stretch of road. And unlike usual encounters with Barred Owls, this guy stuck around…He was very intent on some unseen rodent below the roadside snow. So I sat and watched. He finally plunged down but was unable to get the vole, but he paused long enough to get his portrait in early morning light.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld, braced on car window frame]

wild-turkey-in-snow-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2148Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
I never dreamed that I’d have Wild Turkeys in my woods in northeast Minnesota. In fact, I had to go to the extreme SE corner of the state in the 1980s just to add one to my state list…That’s about 300 miles south! But 30 years later, I have upwards of 30 that stop by my feeding station to load up on cracked corn. This guy seems to be wondering what that white stuff is falling from the sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/50 at f7.1; ISO 500; handheld, and taken through living room window]

black-backed-woodpecker-nest-norris-camp-beltrami-island-state-forest-lake-of-the-woods-co-mn-img_1405Black-backed Woodpecker nest, Norris Camp, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
Note how Black-backed Woodpeckers peal all the bark from around their nest hole…this is NOT done by Hairy Woodpeckers or other 4-toed woodpeckers. They also prefer living conifers with heart rot. I watched these busy parents and constantly begging young for a couple hours.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

black-bellied-plover-break-wall-wisconsin-point-superior-wi-img_7314Black-bellied Plover, Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior.
Shorebirds hold a special attraction for me. Partly because of where I live…in the middle of the country, but close to the “inland sea” of Lake Superior. I often scour the sandy beaches of Duluth, Minnesota’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point. I found this breeding plumaged Black-bellied Plover on the orange-lichened boulders of the Wisconsin Point breakwall. I like the contrast of the black and white bird, orange lichens and blue sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld, braced on rock]

broad-winged-hawk-nest-with-2-nestlings-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_5139Broad-winged Hawk nestlings, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Jessica Dexter and I found this nest during our Friends of Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz in July. What alerted us was a splash of whitewash on the shrubs along the path…We looked up and Bingo! They both fledged successfully and many folks got to watch them through a spotting scope from a safe distance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L with 1/4x teleconverter; 1/180 at f8; ISO 200; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

calliope-hummingbird-male-park-point-duluth-mn-img_1964-1Calliope Hummingbird, Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
This was only the second Minnesota record of a Calliope Hummingbird…and the other was a late fall blah-plumaged bird. This male was in all his summer splendor! He flared his gorget when a “rival” Ruby-throated Hummingbird would come by. Many folks got to see this stunner over a couple days along a dune boardwalk at the Duluth shore of Lake Superior.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 1600; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

forsters-tern-agassiz-national-wildlife-refuge-nwr-marshall-co-mn-img_9758Forster’s Tern, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota.
Several Forster’s Terns were making a circuit along this creek outflow. And the fishing must have been great, for they frequently plunged head-first into the water, and like this one, came up with beakfuls of small fish. I like the graceful swoop of the tern’s long tail.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld, braced on car window frame]

gray-jay-family-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9304-1Gray Jay, Owl Avenue, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Gray Jay taking flight from a small spruce.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1000; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

great-gray-owl-admiral-road-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_8922Great Gray Owl, Admiral Road, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
I do have 100s of decent Great Gray Owl photos, but I like this one because it places the owl in its favored habitat…Black Spruce-Tamarack forest.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 400; handheld]

mountain-bluebird-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4505Mountain Bluebird, Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
Boring pose but I love the merging of blues from Mountain Bluebird to sky…Someone famous once said (can’t remember who), “the bluebird carries the sky on its back.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2500 at f6.3; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-saw-whet-owl-near-burntside-lake-ely-mn-img_7214Northern Saw-whet Owl, near Ely, Minnesota.
My friend Bill Tefft found this nesting Northern Saw-whet Owl in an old Pileated Woodpecker cavity…and I jumped at the chance when he offered to escort me there. World’s cutest owl?
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 250; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-shrike-cranberry-road-lek-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_3277Northern Shrike, Sax-Zim Bog.
In early spring, the willows blush with bright red bark. A fantastic backdrop for this lingering Northern Shrike who will soon head north to its breeding grounds in northern Canada. The blue sky helps the shot as well.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

pine-grosbeak-male-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9632Pine Grosbeak male, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 800; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

ruffed-grouse-snow-carlton-co-mn-img_1106Ruffed Grouse, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Falling snow can be the bane or a boon to a wildlife photographer. The trick is to not use too fast a shutter speed. That will create distracting blobs of white. It is better to slow the shutter down a bit and get some motion in the falling flakes. Here I used 1/320 of a second.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; braced on car window frame]

savannah-sparrow-at-my-pool-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2465Savannah Sparrow, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Another visitor to my backyard bird pool set up. This Savannah Sparrow is enjoying a bath on a hot summer afternoon. I like the splashing water droplets.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

spruce-grouse-male-spruce-road-superior-national-forest-lake-co-mn-img_0659Spruce Grouse male, Spruce Road, Lake County, Minnesota.
I was guiding a couple from England when we found this male Spruce Grouse in far northern Minnesota…It was a lifer for both of them…the only one we got that day. He posed for us for quite awhile. They are a grouse of the boreal forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alaska and Canada.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/125 at f6.3; ISO 400; handheld]

Best Wildlife Photos of 2015 (non-bird)

I’m finally getting around to posting my favorite non-bird wildlife photos of 2015. This is as much an exercise in editing (and learning) for me, as it is sharing photos with you all. It’s always great fun to review the year’s adventures and try to whittle down the images. I give a far higher priority to photos that are a bit creative vs. a standard portrait in front light. I also tend to favor images that show some kind of animal behavior, such as the cooperative hunting between the Badger and Coyote. Enjoy!
Ermine Weasel Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7542 Ermine of the Bog

My parents and sister and family came up north to see the newly-completed Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center where I am Executive Director. We had a nice visit on a cold February day and headed out on a tour of our lands. At the Friends’ Yellow-bellied Bog I saw something dash across the snow-covered road and I immediately recognized it as a winter-pelaged Short-tailed Weasel that we call Ermine. I quickly rolled the window down and started squeaking on my knuckle to attract its attention. This inquisitive guy made three lightning fast circles around our car, pausing only to look for the squeaking prey. He moved so fast that I only got a couple in focus, including this shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/4,000 second; ISO 250; handheld]
[Ermine (Short-tailed Weasel); Sax-Zim Bog, northern Minnesota]

Badger and Coyote hunting Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5687Huntin’ Buddies
I chose this image more for its rarity. Cooperative hunting between Badgers and Coyotes is a rarely seen behavior, limited to areas where their ranges overlap and where Coyotes are not persecuted by man, in this case, Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. In this large Black-tailed Prairie Dog village, the Badger would go head first down a hole and try to dig the Prairie Dog out, the Coyote stood attentively nearby, hoping for the ‘dog’ to pop out another of its escape holes. Mammalogists have proven that the Coyote benefits from this partnership by catching more Prairie Dogs than if it was hunting solo. It is assumed that the Badger benefits too, as possibly the Coyote may chase an “escapee” back down its hole and into the jaws of the Badger.
[Coyote and Badger; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996 Backlit Bison

There is one easy thing that can really help your wildlife photography (that doesn’t involve expensive equipment!) and that is to GET IN THE FIELD EARLY! Dawn is the time when crepuscular critters may still be active and diurnal animals are also moving around. In summer, the mornings are cool and wildlife is more energized, much more so than during the heat of midday.

We found a heard of Bison backlit by the sun which was giving us gorgeous rim lighting on the coats of the Bison. Underexposing by several stops highlighted their breath on this chilly morning.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/8000 second; ISO 100; -3 ev; hand-held]
[Bison; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7032Horn of the Beast
I LOVE Bison! Can’t get enough of them. Every time I see a herd (in Yellowstone, Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park, Custer State Park in South Dakota, or here, in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park) it reminds me how close we (selfish and wasteful) humans came to wiping their millions off the face of the Earth. Plus, they are just MASSIVE beasts…beasts that let you get quite close. I love the texture of their hair/fur and the shape of the horn.
[Bison; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN Bobcat IMG_3390

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3373

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3429 Pretty Kitty

Rarely do you get a chance to see, let alone photograph, a Bobcat in the daytime. But at a friends cabin in Carlton County, Minnesota last winter, I had that chance. After about 45 minutes of sitting quietly, it was an unbelievable thrill when Gene whispered, “Here she comes.” (We’ll call her “she” as her size seems small and features delicate…Plus, what a pretty face!). She cautiously slipped between the hazel brush, slinking her way towards the road-killed deer that Gene had provided. Sensing her surroundings with acute hearing and smell and vision, she crept closer, occasionally stopping to sit and relax, making sure the coast was clear. In the nearly 3 hours we sat there, she came in about four times, but retreating after a few minutes. I included three images of this rarely seen predator.

[Shot under low light with heavy overcast skies at dawn; Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second at ISO 1000. Firmly locked on tripod!]
[Bobcat; Blackhoof River Valley, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7224 Sliver Hunt
I’ve been trying to do more “Animal-in-the-Landscape” images in the last few years…mainly using my Canon 70-200mm f4 lens. Ryan spotted this distant hunting Coyote and we could see that it was working its way to the sliver of light illuminating the ridge top. What I liked about this scene was the spotlight like light, and the Coyote stepped right into it.
[Coyote; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

IMG_5509 Fat and Happy
I included this mediocre photo because it just makes me smile. This Black-tailed Prairie Dog appears well fed and ready to hibernate!

Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try to put on a little fat for winter. This guys really accomplished his goal! These burrowing rodents are a blast to watch…And their “alarm” behavior is awesome; they stand upright and suddenly throw their paws straight up in the air and give a sharp “Yaah” call.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
[Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

IMG_5818
Pronghorn herd
Late in the day we headed overland and came upon yet another massive Prairie Dog town, but on the fringes was a cautious herd of Pronghorns. They were in deep shade but I kind of like the subtle colors that the lighting conditions brought out. Pronghorns are very hard to photograph on sunny days…The whites of their fur blow out.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/160 second; -2/3ev; ISO 400; tripod]
[Pronghorns; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Antheraea polyphemus Polyphemus Moth Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_9367Polyphemus
One of our Giant Silkworm Moths, the Polyphemus lives up to its name with a wingspan as wide as your outstretched hand…up to six inches across! This one was attracted to my garage lights and I carefully moved it in the morning to a more attractive background.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4; f8 at 1/250; ISO 1000; flash at -2 2/3 ev]
[Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus); Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Mule Deer Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7551

Frosty Muley
It really helps to know how your camera sees versus how your eye sees. This pre-sunrise shot looked quite blah to my eye, but I knew the camera sees dawn shade as quite blue. I really like how the warm brown of the Muley contrasts with the cool blue frosty plants.
[Mule Deer; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Pine Marten Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7940 Grandpa Marten
I was able to keep up with this American Marten (Pine Marten) as it hunted a logged area north of Ely, Minnesota. He/she loped along quite slowly and, that, combined with the very gray muzzle, led me to surmise that this was one old weasel!
[American (Pine) Marten; Echo Trail; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

Porcupine silhouette Stone Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7560 Porkie in Purple
April in to early May is the best time to see Porcupines in the North Woods. The Porkies seem giddy to get at the newly-sprouted catkins of willow and aspen. They relish these spring edibles and will crawl out on the most bendy branches to get at them. Sloth-like, they’ll reach out with their paws to pull inaccessible branches closer.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/250; ISO 800; tripod]
[Porcupine; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6053 Late for Dinner
A fun shot of a prairie dog doing what prairie dogs do all day long…going in and out of their underground tunnels. I strongly underexposed this image to highlight the rim lighting of this prairie dog against the setting sun. I didn’t plan that I’d get an image of one going down its hole, but I just kept shooting and this was actually my favorite.
[Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

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]

Top Ten Creative Wildlife Images 2013

It’s that time of year to take stock of our shooting fortunes from the year past. For me, it was a mixed bag. I wanted to do more wildlife video but didn’t find the time for much. 2013 was also the year of the “Feathered & Furry 500,” my attempt to photograph 500 species of animals in Minnesota in one year [More on this in a post in the near-future]. And I did rack up a pretty big list…including over 220 species of birds. But I was also trying to be creative in my shots….More than the usual perfect light portrait.
In the next few days I will also post more “Top Tens” from 2013…Stay tuned!
Here are my favorites in no particular order:
American Crow CR4 Carlton Co MN IMG_7002American Crow in snowstorm. Taken near my house on the way to the gas station to get some milk for the family…The lesson? Always have your camera in the car. I really didn’t do much to the photo as the scene was already extremely contrasty. I did tweak the Levels and Curves to clip the whites and blacks in Aperture. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 160, handheld but braced on car window]

Black-capped Chickadee landing on feeder Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN MG_0074299Chickadee landing on feeder at dawn. I “previsioned” this shot but just had to wait for the right morning and get up the gumption to shoot in the cold of a winter morning. I underexposed by nearly two stops in order to put the backlit wing feathers in a medium tonal range. Yes, it could have been better if part of the bird wasn’t blocked by the feeder. My house, Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 3200, Handheld]

European Starlings Aerial Lift Bridge Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9944European Starlings and Aerial Lift Bridge. I was photographing gulls in Duluth’s Canal Park when a large flock of starlings spooked from the bridge. I instinctively threw up my camera and started shooting. I really like the pattern and composition of this very “graphic” image, especially how the steel girders are all kind of converging in the center. The birds are nicely spaced too. Check the color version/variation below. Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f9 at 1/400 second, ISO 800, Handheld]

Bald Eagle CR4 Cemetary Rd Carlton Co MN IMG_0075809Bald Eagle Landscape. I didn’t “see” this composition when I clicked the shutter…I just pointed my lens out the window when I saw and eagle land there. Only later did I see the nice composition of vertical aspen trunks contrasting with the blueish background of distant pines. A bird-in-the-landscape shot that works. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/800 second, ISO 640, Handheld but braced on car window]

Herring Gulls lighthouse sunset Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9938This is one of 3 images in this Top Ten that were taken within minutes of each other (the others were the startling/bridge silhouettes). Fortuitously, the gulls all perched in perfect locations to make this interesting silhouette. Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f18 at 1/400 second, ISO 800, Handheld]

Common Redpoll Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0076238Common Redpoll on snowy road. I laid flat on a snow-covered road to get this unique portrait of a Common Redpoll, a winter visitor to northern Minnesota. I blew out the whites to improve the high-key look of this shot. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, Handheld while laying on ground]

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484Two Trumpeter Swans landing. Sepia tool in Aperture really helped this shot…The color version wasn’t bad, but the colors were a bit weird. If this happens to you, try and play with black-and-white or sepia color. Mississippi River, Monticello, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1600 second, ISO 250, Handheld]

European Starlings Aerial Lift Bridge Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9946 (see details on similar photo above)
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f9 at 1/400 second, ISO 800 Handheld]

American Crow CR4 Carlton Co MNIMG_7004American Crow in snowstorm Wide. Taken only seconds after the image at the top of the post but with a 10-20mm lens instead of a 400mm lens! I like the simple composition of 3 stark tree silhouettes and one bird tiny in the frame. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm, f6.3 at 1/640 second, ISO 160 Handheld]

Mallard blurIMG_0074579Mallard blur. A very slow shutter speed to portray frantically feeding Mallards on Lake Superior. Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f20 at 0.6 seconds, ISO 100 Handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072674Two Sharp-tailed Grouse in Tamaracks. One of my favorite images of the year (You may certainly disagree!) But I just love the composition of the one distant bird more obvious, then the closer bird more hidden in the trees. I wish I could say I designed this shot, but it was just a “haccident” (happy accident). Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1000 second, ISO 160, tripod]

10 Reasons NOT to Take Fall Leaf Photos

This fall’s color has been one of the most spectacular in recent memory…It is not every year that the oaks, aspens and maples all peak at the same time, but this year they are. So what’s your excuse for not getting out and shooting? Here are some of the reasons I find myself hmmming and hawwwing and procrastinating and avoiding taking fall foliage photos.

1. I CAN’T FIND A GOOD COMPOSITION
SOLUTION: Make your own! I found this dewy Quaking Aspen leaf and very carefully placed it on a background of reversed maple leaves that I laid out. I love the contrast of the yellow with the magenta.

2. IT’S CLOUDY OUT
SOLUTION: No problem, cloudy and foggy days are the best for recording the saturated colors of fall. Even rainy days can be great. But remember to use a polarizer to reduce the sheen from wet leaves.

3. THE LEAVES HAVE ALREADY FALLEN
SOLUTION: So what?…The leaves can be just as pretty and colorful on the ground.

4. I WORK DURING THE DAY
SOLUTION: Get out early! Frost on fall leaves can be a dramatic element

5. TOO LATE…SNOW HAS ALREADY FALLEN
SOLUTION: Count your lucky stars because this is a rare event. Get out right away and find some colorful leaves dusted with snow to make a stunning shot.

6. IT’S JUST A JUMBLE OF LEAVES, TREES, AND COLOR OUT THERE…I CAN’T FIND A SUBJECT
SOLUTION: Isolate! Find a clump of particularly beautiful leaves…or an individual fallen leaf…or grab the telephoto lens to highlight one area of color.

7. THE LEAVES WON’T STAY STILL
SOLUTION: Use this to your advantage…If leaves are swirling in an eddy of a river or creek, just set your tripod up and shoot at a very slow shutter speed…Slower the better. The leaves will become a swirl of color but the rocks and shoreline will be sharp.

8. I CAN’T FIND ANY COLORFUL LEAVES
SOLUTION: Shoot brown leaves

9. I ONLY BROUGHT MY WIDE ANGLE LENS
SOLUTION: The best lens is the one you have with you…So use it! But you have to be careful with wide angle fall foliage shots that you don’t include too much of a gray sky. Here I intentionally eliminated the sky to focus on the variety of colors in a wooded meadow.

10. I ONLY BROUGHT MY TELEPHOTO LENS
SOLUTION: Perfect…Much easier to find good compositions with a medium telephoto (70-200mm) than with a wide angle lens, I believe. Head to a vantage point or lookout where you can isolate part of the scene like in this image from Oberg Mountain, Minnesota, Lake Superior North Shore.

There you have it…A bunch of reasons NOT to shoot this fall’s gorgeous leaves…And a bunch of solutions to these common excuses. Now let’s get out there and shoot like crazy before all the leaves are gone!

13 Tips for Stunning Butterfly Photos

Getting a beautiful, artistic photo of a butterfly is more of a challenge than you’d think. After all, they are attractive insects that regularly perch on attractive flowers. How hard could it be? But the challenges are many…How do you get close? What lens do you choose? Why is the background so cluttered? Here are 13 tips that will improve your butterfly images 100 percent.

1. GET EYE LEVEL

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) on Daisy Fleabane, MN

This is probably the #1 tip to getting better butterfly photos (combined with Tip #2). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, eye-level photos bring greater intimacy to the photo and a stronger connection to the critter by the viewer. So you’ll be doing a lot of crouching, kneeling, stooping and crawling through meadows, but it will be worth it.

2. USE A TELEPHOTO LENS

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas

It is VERY DIFFICULT to get great, or even good butterfly images with a wide angle or normal (50mm) lens. The short focal length does not give you enough working distance…i.e. you can’t get close enough to skittish butterflies (almost all fall into this category!) to make them large enough in the frame for a pleasing image.) And if you could, the wide and regular lenses allow too much depth of field so that you would have a cluttered background of in-focus leaves and stems. I shoot almost ALL of my butterfly images with a 200mm lens mounted on a 1.6x crop-sesor DSLR so it effectively becomes a 320mm lens! This allows me to shoot from a distance that does not spook the butterfly and gives me a shallower depth of field so background vegetation blurs nicely.

3. SUPER MACRO

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) Sax-Zim Bog, MN

The crazy and wonderful patterns on all butterfly wings are the result of colored scales. In this cropped close up of a road-kill Tiger Swallowtail’s hind wings you can see the individual scales. Maybe you remember a poster that showed the entire alphabet, each letter a macro image from a butterflies wing. Fresh road-kills are great for this purpose as few living butterflies would allow this close approach. Now you can use your 60mm or 100mm macro to zoom in on the detail. Great for the “Wow Factor.”

4. BACKLIT BEAUTY

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) Minnesota

This is a fun technique to try later in the afternoon when you have butterflies perching atop wildflowers with dark backgrounds. Underexpose by at least 1 stop…maybe 2 stops…to get this effect. The wings just seem to glow. Remember to turn off your flash too!

5. WATCH YOUR BACKGROUND

European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) Carlton Co, MN

The nicely blurred, smooth green background (called “buttery bokeh” in photographer jargon) in the image above is the holy grail of butterfly photography. But it is difficult to achieve. The trick is having the background vegetation far enough away so it blurs at the f-stop you are shooting at, yet keeping all or most of the butterfly sharp at the resulting depth of field. To get this effect, I am often shooting at f5.6 to f8…depending on if the butterfly’s wings are held flat or together over its back (f5.6) or slightly spread (f8 to get more depth of field).

6. WAIT FOR THE FLOWER

Sheep Skipper (Atrytonopsis edwardsii) Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Sometimes a drab butterfly can play second fiddle to the flower it is feeding on. Such was the case with this brown-gray Skipper nectaring on this stunning cactus flower. This principal can apply to all butterfly photography…Park your butt at a magnificent specimen of a flower and wait…On hot sunny midsummer days you shouldn’t have to wait too long.

7. GET HORIZONTAL (AND DIRTY!)

Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) Cranberry Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN

Many species of butterflies perch on the ground (especially dirt roads and trails) where they take up water and minerals from the soil or animal dung. But a photo from the standing position may help you identify the beast but not be a very pleasing image. So I usually find a subject that seems to be preoccupied with feeding, lay down on the ground a safe distance away and slowly work my way closer. It is rather painful on elbows and knees and necks but does not alarm the bug as much as approaching on foot. When I get within range, I switch to LIVE VIEW so I can view the butterfly on the back of the camera. I then just extend my arms and watch the Live View until I have my perfect framing and subject size. Of course, the success ratio for all butterfly photography is VERY LOW so don’t get discouraged; Try, try again.

8. FILL FLASH

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Liatris, Carlton Co, MN

Maybe 50% of the time I’ll use fill-flash in my butterfly photography. It helps define wing patterns on sunny days, illuminates shadowed underwings and faces, and can freeze motion. I either use the pop-up flash or an external flash and always set it to -1 1/3 e.v. BUT if the sun is at my back and not high overhead, I probably won’t use it. Sometimes it becomes difficult to use it on sunny days too because even at low ISOs you have to have a small aperture (f16) to shoot at the flash sync speed (1/250 for me)…and then the background is too much in focus.

9. DON’T FORGET THE UNDERSIDES

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) Carlton Co, MN

The undersides of many species wings are as spectacular, or in some cases, even more stunning than the pattern on the top side of their wings. This is true for many fritillaries whose top sides are all very similar, a patchwork of orange and black markings, but underneath they have distinctive and colorful spots and patches.

10. …AND DON’T FORGET THE CATERPILLAR!

Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on Milkweed, Carlton Co, MN

Though most spectacular caterpillars that you come across are actually the larva of moths, there are some stunning butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch’s caterpillar comes to mind first, but the larva of the Baltimore Checkerspot and most swallowtails also make great subjects. And don’t forget the Harvester caterpillar…It is the only carnivorous butterfly caterpillar, feeding on woolly alder aphids.

11. BUTTERFLY IN HABITAT

Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia) Western Minnesota

You don’t always have to get frame-filling images. Sometimes it is good to back off and include more habitat. This Common Ringlet is a butterfly of prairies, marsh edges, meadows and other open country so in addition to the close-up I also got a wider shot showing the grassland habitat.

12. FLIGHT

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) Nachusa Grasslands in northern Illinois


Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) and Texas Bluebonnets, near Alice, Texas.

Here’s a challenge for you; Try to shoot a butterfly on the wing! Autofocus won’t work—the butterfly is too small in the frame—so you need to manually focus. Talk about low-percentage shooting! Though this swallowtail is not sharply in focus, I still think it works as a unique flight-habitat image. p.s. I went back to this same ranch the following April and due to drought there was not a single flower in this pasture!

13. KNOW WHERE TO GO…BUTTERFLY MAGNETS

Sulphurs “puddling” in South Texas

Knowing when and where to go are about as important as all other tips. First, get a good regional butterfly guide and study it. It should give you an idea of when the butterflies on the wing (“flight phenology”) and the habitat to look for them. Behavior can also lead you to subjects; “Puddling” as in photo above is when several butterflies concentrate at wet soil or mud to take up nutrients. On top of hills or slight rises with openings you may find mixed groups of butterflies “hilltopping,” a common butterfly behavior. Animal dung/scat also attracts butterflies who take up nutrients from the dried piles…But this doesn’t make for very attractive photos! Bottom line…Get to know the biology of your subjects and your chances of success improve greatly.

Okay, a shameless plug for a field guide to butterflies of the North Woods (which includes species of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) published by my company (www.kollathstensaas.com) and written by my friend and neighbor, Larry Weber. Includes all 125 species found in the North Woods and phenograms, habitat, identification and biology for each. You can Buy it at Amazon.