Posts tagged ‘wildlife photography’

Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Scoters, Loons, Mergansers, Eiders, Seals, Beluga Whales and more
June 16-20, 2017

Cape Merry is a stony point of land at the junction of the  Churchill River and Hudson Bay…and I started several of my mornings on the Cape. It was just me, an insulated mug of coffee and two cameras. A great way to start a morning in the low arctic. At this time of year (third week in June) the sun is rising, for all practical purposes, in the north (okay, slightly northeast); and sitting on the shoreline rocks, you face northwest and so have beautiful light in the early morning. Sunrise during my entire visit was at 4:05 am…but I couldn’t quite muster getting up and out THAT early…especially since sunset was at 10:30pm. So I compromised and got up at 5ish and got out to the Cape by 5:30am.

My alarm would roust me out of my very cozy bed in the Polar Inn at 5am. I had all my gear ready to go, and would quickly don long underwear (top and bottom), pants, fleece jacket, and wind/rain jacket. I also wore my winter hat nearly constantly for the first 3 days. Knee-high rubber boots were my footwear of choice for the entire trip.


Cape Merry looking across the Churchill River to old Fort Churchill.

Ice on Hudson Bay in the distance.

map
Churchill on Hudson Bay is only accessible by air. The train quit running in May. It is some of the most southerly tundra in North America (other than mountain alpine tundra in the Rockies).

churchill_area_map-roads
Cape Merry (#1) is the point separating the town site of Churchill from Hudson Bay and the mouth of the Churchill River. This is where I sat for several mornings photographing sea birds, whales and seals as they fed at the mouth of the river.


Common Eider male

One of my “Most Wanted to Photograph” birds on this trip was the Common Eider. We just don’t see them in Minnesota. They are an “ocean duck” in the Lower 48. The first morning I saw a flock loafing in the shallows of the shoreline of Hudson Bay. It was gray skies and heavy overcast so no photos. But patience pays off, and on my third morning on the Cape, I had this male come swimming right towards me. I hunkered down amongst the rocks and got as close to eye level as I could.

“The eider’s nest is built close to the sea and is lined with eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast. This soft and warm lining has long been harvested for filling pillows and quilts, but in more recent years has been largely replaced by down from domestic farm-geese and synthetic alternatives. Although eiderdown pillows or quilts are now a rarity, eiderdown harvesting continues and is sustainable, as it can be done after the ducklings leave the nest with no harm to the birds.” [from http://www.wikipedia.org]

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


Common Eider male

I stayed low and still but kept shooting as this stunning male kept getting closer and closer. All my horizons were a bit kittywompus due to the contorted position I was shooting from, but I fixed that in Lightroom.

Eiders spend their winters with the Belugas in the Arctic Ocean, feeding in small open-water pools called “polynia.” They return to the Churchill area in May to nest along the coast. But they also utilize inland lakes near Churchill. They are also found in Siberia.

“Mother Common Eiders lead their young to water, and often are accompanied by nonbreeding hens that participate in chick protection. Broods often come together to form “crèches” of a few to over 150 ducklings. Attacks by predators may cause several broods to cluster together into a crèche. Once formed, a crèche tends to stay together throughout the brood rearing period, although some of the different females attending it may leave” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Sparky Stensaas shooting at Cape Merry, Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay. I spent 3 mornings nestled into the rocks at the mouth of the Churchill River shooting anything that flew or swam by.


Common Eider male in flight

These are LARGE ducks! And I wanted an in-flight shot showing their black and white wing pattern. This is okay…But I hope to do better on my next trip.

Eiders can fly at 70 mph!

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev, hand held]

Common Eider male in flight

At nearly 5 pounds (sometimes nearly 7 pounds!) they are the heaviest diving duck in North America…and at 2 feet long with a 3 foot wingspan, the largest as well.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev; hand held]


Common Eider pair

“This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. The eider will eat mussels by swallowing them whole; the shells are then crushed in their gizzard and excreted. When eating a crab, the eider will remove all of its claws and legs, and then eat the body in a similar fashion.” [from http://www.wikipedia.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Common Merganser flock takes off from a dead calm Hudson Bay

Seven males and one female run across the still waters of Hudson Bay in order to get airborne.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and Metabones adapter; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]


Harbor Seals loaf on the shoreline rocks of Cape Merry.

The seals were a source of much entertainment. They were cautious of me, but very curious as well. After a few days they even got used to me (I think…maybe I’m anthropomorphizing). As the tide on Hudson Bay went out (yes, it has a tide…and a quite dramatic tide), it would expose shallow rocks which the seals loved to sun on. These rocky loafing spots are called “haulouts.” There seemed to be a hierarchy as to who got what position…or maybe it was first come, first served.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and Metabones adapter; 1/125 second at f8; ISO 100; tripod]


Harbor Seal basking in the early morning light.

Adult Harbor Seals can reach 6 feet in length and weigh nearly 300 pounds. Females can live to 30 or 35 years, while most males only survive to age 20 to 25. They eat fish and other sea creatures.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal buddies?

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Polar Bear meal…Harbor Seal

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


Harbor Seal yawning revealing pink mouth lining.

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


Harbor Seal

“Do I look fat in this blubber?”

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 second at f8; ISO 320;  +0.66 ev; hand held]


Red-breasted Merganser pair

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


Red-breasted Merganser male

Perched amongst the rocks of Cape Merry, I was somewhat hidden from the waterfowl and loons that were either flying towards the river, or from the river to Hudson Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev; hand held]

Red-throated Loon pair fly low over the Churchill River.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


Red-throated Loon in flight.

Another species on my “Must See and Photograph in Churchill” list. And, boy did I get to see a bunch! One morning, about 65 Red-throated Loons flew past the point of Cape Merry. Most were flying from the Churchill River to Hudson Bay. Many landed on the Bay…more like “belly flopped” on the Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f7.1; ISO 400; hand held]


Scoters and Beluga Whale…How often do you see that?!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/320 second at f8; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Three species of Scoters and ice floes on Hudson Bay

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]

Three species of Scoters and ice floes on Hudson Bay

I got as low as I could to make this very shallow depth of field image of three species of Scoters on Hudson Bay. In fact, I had to lay right on the beach and strain my neck to see through the viewfinder. But I LOVE how it turned out. Surf Scoters (big orange and white bill), Black Scoters (yellow knob on bill) and White-winged Scoters (strangely shaped orange bill with white around eye). Ice floes in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Surf Scoter pair in flight

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


The Trifecta of Scoter Species! Hudson Bay

All three North American Scoter species in one shot! Love it! From left to right: Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter (Velvet Scoter in Europe/England).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Black Scoter coming in for a landing

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


White-winged Scoter

The White-winged is an odd looking but strangely attractive Scoter species. I think I like the British name better…Velvet Scoter; it really fits the soft plumage of this sea duck.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]

Pacific Loon coming in for a landing on Hudson Bay

Not a great photo but I was just so thrilled to see a “new” species of loon (other than our Common Loon that is ubiquitous in Northern Minnesota), that I had to include it. Note the silvery sheen to the head. I will have more photos of this species on my “Tundra” post that will be forthcoming.

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

Parasitic Jaeger

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


Parasitic Jaeger

Jaegers “make their living” by harassing gulls in flight until they cough up their last meal. The jaeger then swoops down and catches the “gull vomit” in mid air and eats it. Not really “vomit,” the regurgitated mass is a solid.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Parasitic Jaeger

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; hand held]


Beluga Whale trio

Every early summer thousands of Belugas migrate down from the Arctic Ocean to the mouth of the Churchill River. They begin arriving in mid June and stay until September. What brings them here? The answer is, of course, food!… Abundant populations of a little skinny fish called the Capelin, to be exact. They resemble Smelt (a reference for all my Duluth/Lake Superior friends), only reaching 5-8 inches in length. Incredible concentrations of this fish occur here in July when they spawn along the shores. Arctic Terns and other birds also enjoy the fishy bounty.


Beluga Whale trio with one spouting.

SOME INTERESTING BELUGA FACTS…

  • Belugas are the only white whale
  • “Beluga” means “the white one” in Russian
  • Young are brown-gray when born
  • Average length is 10-13 feet for adults
  • Mature males weigh between 990 and 2,200 pounds; females 550-1540
  • They can hold their breath for 20 minutes
  • Belugas have flexible lips that can “smile”
  • Communicate with facial expressions, sounds, slapping water
  • Unique among the toothed whales for being able to move head in many directions due to flexible neck
  • The lack of a dorsal fin is thought to be an adaptation to living under ice.
  • 60,000 Belugas live in the western Hudson Bay region. About 3,000 of those are found at Churchill
  • In the wild Belugas average lifespan is 15 years, but some may reach 40 or 50 years old.
  • Only predators are the Polar Bear and Killer Whale (Orca)


Beluga Whale mouth of the Churchill River

If you look closely, you can see what looks like “prop scars” on the back of this Beluga Whale. Since these whales feed in the shallow waters of the Churchill River, they can sometimes be nicked by a boat’s propeller.

My timing was quite good as the Belugas were numerous and close to shore. They come in to the Churchill River and feed on the abundant Capelin…a small fish…that is abundant here. Belugas are hard to photograph as they rarely stick their head out of the water, never breach, and they are very white. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to be in their company. One still and quiet afternoon I got to hear the sounds made by the Belugas as I ate lunch on the beach. It was an impressive array of grunts and bellows.

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


Beluga Whale pair spouting

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

Belugas aren’t the only ones feasting on the abundant Capelin fish along the shores of Cape Merry; Arctic Terns are also imbibing. That’s a good meal for a tern!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

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

Arctic Tern Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Tern plucking a Capelin fish from the waters of Hudson Bay

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]
NEXT BLOG POST: Churchill 2017: North Edge of the Boreal Forest

Journey to Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Bird Photography

June 17-21, 2017

In this first installment about my trip to Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay this June, I want to share a bit about the journey to Churchill, logistics of traveling in the Churchill area (lodging, rental vehicle, food, etc), a tour of the town, and the state of the town (due to some recent unfortunate circumstances which I highlight later in this post).

I was also in Churchill in 1987…30 years ago! Hard to believe. Here are the links to those posts:

Churchill 1987: Part 1

Churchill 1987: Part 2


The Tundra on approach to Churchill. Note Hudson Bay in background.

I’ve wanted to get back to Churchill for a LONG time…I love it there. It’s been 30 years, and the itch wasn’t getting scratched. The North is where my heart is…I loved Costa Rica and Mexico and Baja but I’m feel a much stronger pull towards the poles. My trips to Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland really connected with me. And Churchill is the closest, most easily accessible tundra/arctic to me in northern Minnesota. For several reasons, I had a strong desire to photograph and video the arctic species of birds and mammals. The first trip in ’87 was to see the rare and elusive Ross’s Gull. I succeeded in that, but my photos were not great…two words…film days. This time, bird photography was my goal, The Ross’s Gulls no longer nest here but My “Most Wanted” list was still long! (see photo below)

My “Most Wanted” list of species/subjects to photograph and video. A very long list for 4 nights/5 days trip!

High priorities for me were: tundra birds with wildflowers in the background, Willow Ptarmigan, Bonaparte’s Gulls nesting in spruces, shorebirds perched in trees, close up jaegers, sea birds in flight (Common Eiders, Red-throated Loons), Arctic Hare and Arctic Fox, bog landscapes and Pacific Loons at eye level.


Even though it was June 17, patches of snow still dotted the landscape.

Since the railroad isn’t running right now, the airline (Calm Air) has added flights. I’m not sure if this is the reason, but the price for my round trip airfare from Winnipeg was ONLY $400 US…This is $400 to $800 cheaper than it has been in recent years! I jumped at the opportunity.


I haven’t had a FREE hot meal on a plane (domestic flight) for many years! This was First Air’s breakfast meal on the 1 1/2 hour flight. Great breakfast sandwich. We also were given hot face towels! Luxury!


Chatted with this young Inuit man from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada on the flight. He told me stories of fishing salmon, Musk Ox, a white Grizzly Bear that his uncle “caught” (the word they use in the North for “shot”) and showed me how to write his name in the Inuit language. He was doing some training in Winnipeg and was heading back to Nunavut. The flight to Churchill would continue on to Rankin Inlet.


Churchill is the southern edge of the tundra…and the northern edge of the boreal forest.

The view flying in to Churchill


Potholes of the tundra south of Churchill. Note ice on Hudson Bay in background.


The flight from Winnipeg to Churchill was on a 737. Each of the fleet has a different arctic species on the tail; in this case, a Golden Eagle. A front-end loader is the luggage buggy!

I flew out at the 8am flight and returned via the 8pm flight…That way I had two full days of shooting on my “flying days.” But that meant another 2 nights of lodging in Winnipeg, which is fairly expensive.


A sign that is mainly meant for late fall/winter visitors. Few, if any, Polar Bears hang around town in summer. On my visit there were 2 bears around…but I never saw them.


One of the few new buildings in Churchill is the airport.


Welcome to the Polar Bear capital of the World! (Not in summer)


Polar Bear crossing….a winter phenomenon. A section of “the highway” in the background. The only paved road goes from town to the airport. The other 40 miles of road are all dirt or worse.


Main Street of Churchill Manitoba


Home, Sweet Home…Polar Inn

I would highly recommend the Polar Inn. Small and clean and with an amazing breakfast! I stayed 4 nights and the price was reasonable (about $100 US per night)…especially with not having to buy breakfast!

Note the warning adhered to my rental truck…The door hinges were already sprung from someone opening the doors and letting the wind yank them out of the car frame.


Breakfast buffet at the Polar Inn was VERY good! I would shoot from 5:30am to 9am and then come back and get some breakfast…egg mcmuffins, boiled eggs, yogurt parfaits, cereal, waffles and good coffee!


When I was in Churchill in 1987, the “store” in town was The Hudson’s Bay Company store. It has now been replaced by the very generic and boring Northern Store…a mini Walmart.


With the train not running, food stuffs were in low supply at the Northern Store (the only place to get groceries in town) …and more costly due to the expense of flying everything in. Milk shot up to $16 per gallon right after the train got washed out…but has since dropped to $7 per gallon. The bread shelves at the Northern Store were quite bare.


Inukshuk sculpture on the waterfront of Churchill


Sparky at the Churchill waterfront with Hudson Bay and a giant inukshuk (Inuit spelling: inuksuk) in the background.


You can’t rent a car in Churchill…but you can rent a beater truck for exorbitant prices (about $800 CDN for a week). But you don’t need luxury to get around on Churchill’s 60 miles of roads…15 miles paved and the rest various degrees of dirt and two-wheel track. This beauty had both door hinges sprung due so you had to be careful when opening the door on a windy day.


On my last two days, I noticed murals getting painted all over town. Turns out I just happened to be in town for the one week when artists from all over the world were painting their art on buildings. It was part of a grant program called Sea Wall: Artists for Oceans. Sea Walls Festival, is a public art program that promotes ocean conservation globally.

The murals explore the history of Manitoba and highlight some of the issues affecting its unique ecoregions: Tundra, Taiga, Boreal Forest, and the Arctic Ocean.

Seventeen artists from Canada, U.S., Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, U.K., Spain, Australia, and Japan as well as 2 Winnipeggers  made up the 30-member mural team.

And the weather was beautiful for painting…Lows in the 40s and highs around 70! Perfect. Lots of energy about town.


I saw this gentleman painting this mural and wanted to know more so I flagged him down and chatted. Turns out he is from Brazil! Arlin Graff is part of the 30-member team of muralists.


Here is Arlin from Brazil’s nearly completed geometric Polar Bear mural.


Another mural…This one of the Northern Lights by Charlie Johnston of Winnipeg.


Another mural in town is in progress


Local boys and the start of another mural.


Local kids playing along the rocks of the “city beach”….Hudson Bay and ice floes in the background.


Sled dogs are common around town, especially at the start of the Goose Creek Road. This cute fella lived in town and greeted every single person that walked down “Main Street.”


An interesting building in Churchill. The population of the town is about 900.


Winter transportation in Churchill


Now that’s a truck! Tundra Buggy Polar Bear tours are big business in Churchill during November and December. One local told me that many of the big tour companies are owned by outsiders who only live here for a few months. And not much money trickles down to the local economy as the tours are self contained….The companies hire their own big charter plane, then the guests stay in mobile housing units out on the tundra, and all food is flown in on the charter. So the local hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and tourist shops don’t benefit much. Most of the profits heads out of town with the owners in late December.


Cabin on Goose Creek Road

 


Monument on Cape Merry


I’m not sure what goes on at the Caribou Hall but it is a cool old building.


Churchill was formerly a port town where ocean-going vessels picked up wheat. The private company that owns the railroad, also owned the grain elevators (built in 1930) and port, but closed it over a year ago. No ships have come in or out for nearly 2 years.

Then another blow to the town in May: Several huge multi-day blizzards this winter led to a massive melt-off during spring thaw in May, washing out many stretches of the railroad tracks…The only way to get to Churchill overland is by rail…There is no road to Churchill. This was how I got to Churchill in 1987…36 hours ONE WAY by VIA Rail from Winnipeg. My friend Tyler and I sat up the whole way (no sleeper car) in a cloud of smoke from the Indians who were smoking up a cloud. More importantly, this is how supplies, food, cars, equipment get to Churchill…not to mention the small Indian villages along the route. It’s a big deal. I found the locals in good spirits though…and optimistic. Many jobs have been lost due to the Port of Churchill grain elevators closing…and now the railroad jobs are in jeapordy. Surprisingly, very few locals had left for “the South” for other jobs so far.


The renovated Churchill railroad depot now sits abandoned (until further notice!)


No trains have run since mid May (UPDATE: As of August 2017, the tracks have still not been repaired, and there is no plan to fix them.)


Trains sit idle at the Churchill depot…No one has been coming in to, or leaving from Churchill by rail for months.

 


The only gas station in town…and NOT open 24-7.

The only gas pump in town…and I didn’t even bother calculating what the cost per gallon in the conversion from liters…too depressing!


Churchill Weather Station….Evidently a tornado just came through! 🙂


The Eskimo Museum in Churchill is basically unchanged since my last visit in 1987…and that is good. This unique museum tells the story of Arctic Inuit life through carvings made by the people themselves. Carvings of greenstone, Walrus tusk, ivory, whale bone and antler.

Each cabinet has a phone that you pick up and it begins telling you about a specific carving and what is means to Inuit everyday life. A very clever way to interpret the carvings. Most carvings were done between the 1940s and present in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Arctic Canada.

 


A really unique set of carvings (made out of walrus tusk) of Pope Pius XII from the 1940s. Catholic missionaries had influence in many remote villages at this time. The green glasses were made of a plastic hair comb.


Another favorite sculpture/carving. This one shows an elder Inuit telling his son (?) stories about the Northern Lights/aurora borealis (cleverly depicted by the tines of a caribou antler.


All the carvings tell a story of Inuit life. Many date to the mid 1900s. This one tells the tale of a curious Polar Bear and a hunter with only a bow and arrow and his dogs for protection.


A creative carving of an Inuit hunter (ivory) spearing a seal below the ice (bone section)


The only “real” Polar Bear I saw while in Churchill was this stuffed mount in the Eskimo Museum. Evidently there were a couple live ones still hanging around east of town. I never saw one (good thing when on foot) but was hoping to see one while I was in the safety of my truck. No such luck. I did have a bell attached to my pack any time I was walking along the shore of Hudson Bay in areas of brush or rock jumbles.


Some old traditions have just morphed to modern versions….Inuit women carried their children in the hoods of their fur parkas…This is a modern summer version (Winnipeg airport on my way home)

NEXT POST: Churchill on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Yellowstone 2017 #2—Wildlife photography with the Canon 200mm f2 lens

No, sadly I don’t own this Canon 200mm EF IS USM f2.0 lens…(only $5,699 from Adorama canon 200mm f2 adorama)…but I rented it from http://www.lensrentals.com for a couple hundred bucks for a week. I DIDN’T WANT TO GIVE IT BACK!

I used it on my Canon 7D (my new Sony A6500 always had the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on it for 4K video usage) and I often hand held it, even though it weighs a hefty 5.6 pounds! Here are a few things I loved…

  1. Incredibly sharp lens!
  2. Lovely “bokeh” at f2.0 (the buttery backgrounds caused by the shallow depth of field when shooting wide open at f2.
  3. Snappy focus
  4. Solid feel
  5. Image stabilization that really worked
  6. Able to shoot hand held in low light situations due to the “fast” f2.0 aperture.

Now, I’m not a techy photographer, but I could instantly tell when I downloaded and viewed my photos on the large computer screen that this lens creates very sharp photos with beautiful backgrounds. I shot almost every image with this lens wide open at f2.0.

BUT you need the right subject in the right situation for this lens to shine. Before we went on this trip I searched Flickr for all images shot with “Canon 200mm f2” lens. 90% were portraits of people. And the reason for this is that you need a fairly large subject (human, Bison, Pronghorn) at a fairly close distance. This rarely happens in wildlife photography…But in Yellowstone, the wildlife is used to humans so you can get quite close. And it’s open country. Ideally you also need some stuff in the foreground and background in order to show off the shallow depth of field. Look especially at the foreground and background in the photos below…You could never get this kind of bokeh (blurred background/foreground) with other telephoto lenses at this distance.

OR you need smaller subjects shot at close range (Raven, Harlequin Duck, Shooting Star flower). The lens only focuses to 6.2 feet at the close end, but you could add extension tubes for real dreamy background close up work.

Conclusion? All in all, a magnificent lens…for the right situations. Really not sure how much use it would get in northern Minnesota where the wildlife is usually in thick cover, and often only seen briefly. It would be very cool for large northern owls (who are quite tame), but probably does not justify a nearly $6,000 purchase. Maybe I could justify it by adding a 2x extender and making it into a 400mm f4 lens…Naah. BUT I will definitely rent it again on a future Yellowstone National Park trip.

Common Raven black and white Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0368

Talk about sharp…Wow! I zoomed in on the reflection in the eye of the Raven and could easily see and count the pine trees in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison snowy sagebrush Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0045

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1600 at f2; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Harlequin Duck pair male female low angle Madison River Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0187

The lens is great for eye-level water shots in order to separate the subject from the background on lakes, river. With other lenses (such as the 70-200mm f4 lens) the background would be much more detailed and the birds lost in the composition. Also note the Trumpeter swan photo below.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +1 ev; tripod; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

 

Bison herd aspens wide Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-05004

Here is an example of an image that may not look too different with another lens as I shot it at f4.5.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/320 at f4.5; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Common Raven snow rainbow background Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0353

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/400 at f2; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

 

Bison head on snowy woods Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0238

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison heard formation crossing river low angle Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0296

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison heard formation crossing river Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0300

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/500 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Common Raven snow falling black and white Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0335

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

 

 

Trumpeter Swan Gibbon River? Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0427

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/2500 at f2; ISO 100; +1 ev; tripod; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Upper Falls Yellowstone River Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0484

Not sure why I shot this at f2.0….Should have shot at f8. No need for shallow depth of field here.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100;  -0.66 ev; tripod; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison standing facing me Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0521

This lens really shines with low angle photography. This was shot BELOW eye-level and makes the Bison look quite ominous…And I was not too comfortable being this close.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; -0.5 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Pronghorn broadside Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0699

Classic photo with the f2 lens…A boring image with any other lens, but the blurred background and foreground created by shooting at f2.0 make this less than boring (But not that great either).

Shooting Star wildflower Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0746

Love this! The ONLY sharp thing in this photo is the flower head of this tiny Shooting Star wildflower (see image below for size scale).

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/3200 at f2; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Shooting Star wildflower Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0767

Ryan photographing the same Shooting Star wildflower for scale.

Bison snowy head on Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0075

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison head black and white Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0797

Sharp!

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Yellowstone 2017 #1—Grizzly sow & cub

This is Part 1 about our late April trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Lately, my buddy Ryan Marshik and I have been making our annual wildlife photo trip to Yellowstone National Park in the spring. This year we both were able to slip out of our family roles in late April.

One of the highlights was a sow Grizzly and her yearling cub. The ranger told us that folks call her “Valley Girl,” as she hangs out in a valley near Roaring Mountain. We were fortunate to cross paths with the pair on two consecutive days (April 28 and April 29)…They were oblivious to the two-legged photographers, and put on a quite a show.  The ranger said that they had just awoke from hibernation on April 26 or 27.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05778

Yearling cub. Young Grizzly stay with their moms for two winters. The ranger said that the sow “Valley Girl” had two cubs last spring but only this one survived into the second spring.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05804

Mom has a red tag in each ear and a radio collar. The youngster had learned well, and did everything mom did.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05818Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05828Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0530

[Sony A6500 with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1000 sec at f2.0; ISO 100; tripod]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0531

[Sony A6500 with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1000 sec at f2.0; ISO 100; tripod]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0571Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0579Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0587

The yearling would occasionally get preoccupied with digging up food (worms? roots?) and then look up, only to realize that mom had mosied away. The yearling would then run back to her. I figured I’d try some panning blurs at very slow speeds (1/30 and 1/20 second). These were the only four that were interesting.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/30 sec at f13; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0590

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0592

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0593

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0635Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05965Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06003Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06024Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06061

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06082

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f7.1; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06090

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06129

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06112

Grizzlies have whitish claws, while Black Bears have black claws.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06148

Bear booty

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06156

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06171Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06184

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand-held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06186

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand-held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06188

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06199

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand-held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06474

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06480

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06566

Like mom, the yearling rolled in Bison dung several times. Not sure what the reason for this behavior is.Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06487

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06636

Nursing time! Even yearlings get a milk meal now and then.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06661

At over 1-year old, the cub is still nursing.

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06680

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod

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]

Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Day 1

Ryan Marshik and I busted out to North Dakota’s premiere wildlife hotspot last week. Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a treasure of the upper midwest. An easy 9-hour drive from Duluth, the park is a full 7 hours closer to us than our usual fall wildlife photography destination—Yellowstone.

Elk bull Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_4935[Bull Elk at Sunrise]
Our normal modus operandi is to get up in the dark, make breakfast and hit the wildlife auto loop by sunrise. The loop is a very manageable 25 miles and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on how many wildlife encounters you take advantage of). This bull Rocky Mountain Elk was our first sighting of the trip. Elk are rather unusual in the park, so this was a great surprise. He didn’t hang around though, and was soon over the top of the hill. I grabbed some hand-held window-braced shots.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; -1 2/3ev; ISO 800; handheld braced on car window]
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5059b
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5051bLeast Chipmunk
We took the side road called “Buck Hill” where we rarely see anything…but you never know! Ryan spotted this cute little Least Chipmunk harvesting seeds in a short bush. Our motto is always “a bird in the hand”…which means that we try and shoot whatever subject is before us at the time instead of saying “Aah, it’s just a chipmunk…Let’s keep moving. Theirs probably a Coyote around the next bend.”
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
Prairie Dog buddies IMG_5128
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 second; -2/3ev; ISO 200; handheld]
Prairie Dog fat IMG_5509Fat Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try and 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]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5617
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5603Badger
Wherever there are Prairie Dogs, predators are sure to be near by. The formidable list of predators includes Golden Eagles, Coyotes and these guys, Badgers. I was really hoping to see either a Badger or Bobcat on this trip was thrilled when we found this guy hunting a Prairie Dog town. He was not shy either; pausing to pose for us at the mouth of his/her burrow. I’ll have a bizarre Badger tale to tell in one of the next blog posts.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/1600 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
IMG_1318Sparky on the hunt 🙂
Truth be told, we spend a great deal of time driving around looking for wildlife. But occasionally we get out and stalk some photo-prey. This is a very easy place to head out overland…No Grizzlies to worry about!…but also a myriad of trails made by the park’s Bison herds.

Landscape Teddy Roosevelt NP IMG_5093Though Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a badlands landscape, it is not as barren as the South Dakota Badlands. Much of the terrain is covered by grass, red cedars and sagebrush. There is even Prickly Pear Cactus. In summer there are rattlesnakes to be aware of, but the most dangerous thing in late fall would be an irate Bison bull.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f10 at 1/320 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5465
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second; -1/3ev; ISO 100; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5363“Wild” Horses (more accurately “Feral Horses”)
Though not a native animal to this part of North America, the horses here are very wild. [See this POST about some crazy wild horse interactions on a Teddy trip a couple years ago.] I do love their varied coats and wild manes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 250; tripod]
Pronghorn herd Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5818Pronghorn 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]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5737Coyote
And sure enough, there were a couple Coyotes hunting the town. I like the contrast of the Coyote in blue shade with the sliver of warm sunset sunlight.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5795Coyote
She eventually came out into the sun and gave us close opportunities for some backlit shots. I love rim lighting!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Elk bull sunset Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5906Bull Elk
The day ended as it had begun, with the sighting of a bull Elk. This one was well after sunset and the crazy high ISO I used created this photo with a painterly quality.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; f1.8 at 1/200 second; -1ev; ISO 6400; handheld]

More Teddy Roosevelt blog posts coming soon!

SEE PREVIOUS TEDDY ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK POSTS HERE

Video of my Bobcat Encounter

Finally finished editing my video of a Bobcat in Carlton County in northern Minnesota. See the previous post for photos from this once-in-a-lifetime encounter at a friend’s cabin. I said it before, and I’ll say it again…truly a beautiful cat! Enjoy!