Posts tagged ‘wildlife photography’

Palisade Head Peregrines (and grebes & mergansers): Shooting with Sparky

Palisade Head Peregrine Falcon Watch May 1: Wildlife Photography

A spring day at Northeast Minnesota’s Palisade Head on Lake Superior. Sparky is hoping to photograph Peregrine Falcons today, but he has more luck with Common Mergansers, Least Chipmunks, Song Sparrows and a flyby Peregrine. Wildlife Photography, Bird Photography

Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos of 2019 (Top Ten)

Creative photos of wildlife are often my goal, but rarely realized.

When we encounter an interesting critter in the field we first take a “record” shot (basically a snapshot). Now we at least have an identifiable image of the animal. Next we try and get a decent portrait. And once we have that, we can play around with exposures (silhouettes?), shutter speeds (often longer for blurs), wider angles (including some of the surrounding landscape) and different perspectives.

This is when it really gets fun! It is low percentage shooting to be sure, but the results are often much more interesting than another “bird on a stick” photo.

Common Raven breath (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens; 1/400 second; ISO 200; hand-held]

I’ve tried to get a photo like this with Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Cranes, and always failed miserably. But when Ryan and I came upon the resident pair of Raven beggars in the Hayden Valley in October, I saw my chance for redemption! The sun was low and the ravens vocal…a perfect combo for the “backlit breath” shot. Only one problem…the wind was very slightly blowing…and in the wrong direction…so their breath was blowing behind their heads. And also, the biggest puff of air usually comes after the Raven is already closing its bill. This one was the best of the bunch.

Bald Eagle in snowstorm (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 250; hand-held]

I like the monochromaticity (is that a word?) of this image. The heavy snow softens the distracting maze of aspens. I did lighten the whole image so that the whites of the snow were just blowing out. The Bald Eagle is waiting for its turn at a deer carcass.

Greater Prairie Chicken on lek (Polk County, Minnesota) April 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 73mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; hand-held]

You have to crawl into the photo blind at grouse/prairie chicken leks about an hour before sunrise in order not to spook the birds. But what do you do while you wait for enough light to take action shots? Well, you can record audio of the “booming” birds…or you can take long (and I mean looooong) exposure panning shots.

I really like how this one turned out. The bird is sharp enough, and I love how its orange eyebrows and air sac contrasts beautifully with the blues of the predawn grass.

Tundra Swans (near Nashua, Minnesota in Wilkin County) April 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

I had several nice “high key” images in 2019. I like this one of a flock of Tundra Swans winging their way through western Minnesota towards the tundra of northern Canada. I intentionally blew out the whites to make a more graphic image.

Bison herd at sunset (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f9; ISO 800; tripod]

I really do have more than enough Bison shots after 10 years of shooting in Yellowstone. But when we rolled up to this herd along Fountain Flat Drive I saw a scene developing. I decided to back off on the focal length to create a “wildlife-in-the-landscape” shot. And as the sun sank, the grass began glowing and the rimlight on the shaggy beasts was perfect. Of course I do wish more had their heads up, but that is wishful thinking with grazing Bison.

Common Ravens (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm; 1/500 second at f7.1 ISO 400; hand-held]

Not sure anybody else will agree with me here, but I love the feel of this image. It is just 3 Ravens in aspen woods in a snowstorm, but it evokes something in me. Can’t describe it…I’ll have to ponder this more.

Red-tailed Hawk (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 73mm; 1/125 second at f5.6; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

Can you find the hawk? Just a small silhouette of a Redtail contrasting with the stark dead tree silhouettes and backed by a gorgeous post sunset purple glow.

Northern Hawk Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Another “high key” image where I increased the exposure and adjusted the levels to clip the whites to create a more graphic image. I like how the Hawk Owl’s yellow eyes and beak, rusty plumage and green lichens pop on the white background. The overcast sky was just a gray blah background so this is one trick to salvage such images.

Zebra (San Diego Zoo, California) August 2019

Just a zebra in black and white. The zebra was in the sunlight, but its shelter was heavily shaded. Maybe not the most creative shot, but I love the graphic nature of the image…and what a striking animal!

Mule Deer and aspen leaves (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota) Oct. 2019

I increased the exposure and elevated the whites, and also decreased the contrast by opening up the shadows in Lightroom.

Bison (Badlands National Park, South Dakota) October 2019

The photo of the Bison is a result of me playing around with Lightroom controls and experiencing a “haccident”… a happy accident. By sliding the Luminance slider to 100 and the Detail slider to 0 under the Noise Reduction panel, you reduce the detail in the image and it creates a painterly quality to the photo. No Photoshop filters here! You will either love or hate this photo.

Snow Goose blur (western Minnesota) April 2019

It was a stunning and unexpectedly massive goose migration in western Minnesota this April. I sounded like an old-timer telling Bridget and the kids about my experience…”You should’ve seen it…clouds of geese in the air. Skeins of geese overhead constantly. The air was filled with flocks!”

I played with some longer exposures while keeping the camera still. I did okay but the trees in the background aren’t as sharp as I’d like.

Trumpeter Swans (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 2019

I was taking landscape photos and video with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro when I passed over these early-returning Trumpeter Swans. The ignored the “whirring bird” over their heads completely. You don’t often see wildlife from above. I also like the colors in the water.

NEXT UP…Top Ten Landscape photos of 2019

My Top Ten Bird Photos 2019

I’ve already posted my favorite “Bird-in-the-Landscape” photos, and Top Twelve Mammals of 2019, so now it is time for my Best Bird Portraits of the year. It is a fun exercise going through all the photos from the year and coming up with the best of the best…especially when you didn’t think you had such a great photographic year.

Gambel’s Quail (near Portal, Arizona)

I hadn’t been birding in Southeast Arizona for many years, so this June I headed down to reacquaint myself with birds of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert. Even the very common Gambel’s Quail was a treat to see after these many years. Their call (as this guy is performing) is memorable and distinctive.

Western Grebe (Lake Osakis, Minnesota)

What I really wanted this day was a photo of a mated pair of Western Grebes performing their courtship “run-across-the-water” dance performance. But the water was too choppy for that, but I did get a nice portrait of a spectacular bird.

Sandhill Crane adult and colt (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held from window of car]

Any time I can get birds in a field of flowers it is almost surely going to make a pleasing image. This adult and colt was molting into their winter gray from their iron-stained summer plumage.

Forster’s Tern (Upper Rice Lake, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from kayak]

A kayak provides an eye-level vantage for photographing hard-to-reach water birds …but it is also a difficult platform to work from since the kayak tends to spin once stopped. But I was able to get this shot of a Forster’s Tern on its nest with its reflection in the water.

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, Arizona)

I like the leading line of the branch and how the hummingbird’s wing is almost an extension of the sweep of the branch. The Rivoli’s Hummingbird’s iridescent feathers show well in this image high up in the Arizona Mountains.

See more Arizona hummingbird photos here

House Finch on Ocatillo (southeast Arizona)

It is only a House Finch, but I like the shape of the Ocatillo’s stalks and how the red blossom stalks match the bird’s plumage. The blue sky doesn’t hurt either!

House Finches are native to the western U.S. but were introduced to the East Coast in the 1940s (?). The arrived in Minnesota by the late 1980s but are still not extremely common.

Greater Prairie Chickens (Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod in blind]

Males battle on the dancing lek of the Greater Prairie Chickens. Battles are brief and often end in an aerial skirmish. I was in a blind from well before sun-up until all the males left at mid morning.

See more photos from my morning at the Prairie Chicken lek here

Yellow Rail (McGregor Marsh, Aitkin County, Minnesota)
[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens (Metabones adapter); 1/60 second at f5/6; ISO 1600; flash; hand-held while holding flashlight]

Not much of a photo huh? No it’s not technically a good bird photo but I included it because it is one of North America’s most rarely seen bird, and taken at 11pm in complete darkness in a cattail/sedge marsh with about a million mosquitos around my head. Plus, I was holding a flashlight in one hand and my camera in the other!

Read more about this adventure here (and see the video).

Spotted Owl (Hunter Canyon, Arizona)

Talk about well camouflaged! I have other photos that are tighter and more portrait-like, but I like this photo because it shows how their spotted plumage hides them in the dappled sunlight.

See more Spotted Owl photos here

Gambel’s Quail family (Portal, Arizona)

How cute are these little guys? I like their tiny top knots. One of the fun things to do in Southeast Arizona is to sit at a feeding station and just wait and see what comes in. I probably saw 25 species of birds in a couple hours while sitting in a lawn chair.

Elegant Trogon (near Portal, Arizona)

Another Southeast Arizona bird I hadn’t seen in ages…the Elegant Trogon. I was tipped off to a nest location so I spent a fair amount of time watching mom and dad come and go. The nest cavity was hard to see and I only had one tiny opening to get a photo. This is about the only decent image I got, but I did get video as well.

See more photos from the Cave Creek/Portal area of Arizona here

Greater Prairie Chicken (Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 2000; tripod in blind]

Another image of a Prairie Chicken battle. I like the blurred wing and unusual pose of this male.

See the VIDEO of my morning at the Prairie Chicken lek here

Red-necked Grebe and babies (Upper Rice Lake, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from kayak]

Too bad I wasn’t a bit closer when I took this photo. It is highly cropped. But I love the two baby Red-necked Grebes…especially the one peaking out from its mom’s wings.

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

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

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

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

April 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The male’s display is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love the head-on view!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another front view of this amazing bird of the prairies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sparky’s Top 10 Mammal Photos of 2018

Bighorn Battle (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

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

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

Grizzly (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

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

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

Mountain Goat (Glacier National Park, Montana) July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Sparky’s Top 10 Creative Wildlife Photos of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love the texture of Bison hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sandhill Cranes under a full Moon: Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Copy 1 IMG_2106

October 22, 2018 (Monday)

**ALL OF THE BELOW PHOTOS ARE SINGLE FRAMES AS TAKEN…I DID NOT “ADD THE MOON IN PHOTOSHOP”

I ran into several photographer friends down in Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows Wildlife Area yesterday. I guess we were all thinking the same thing…Two days before the full moon is a perfect time to try and photograph Sandhill Cranes in front of a massive moon.

Lauren the naturalist gave me three locations to try for the dusk fly-in of the Sandhill Cranes. One was my “usual spot” along the Main Dike Road. I didn’t want to risk a new spot today so I stuck with my normal spot.

I ran into fellow photographer Mike Dec and we decided to shoot from the same spot. The wind was blowing strong out of the northwest, but the temp was in the low 50s. Cold fingers and shaking tripod!

Sandhills by the thousands roost in the wildlife reserve over night. The shallow-water marshes are basically inaccessible to most predators, and there is also safety in numbers. During the day the cranes feed in harvested corn fields outside the refuge and then fly in a bit before sunset. THOUSANDS roost here in the late autumn.

I was shooting slow-motion 180 fps video with the Panasonic GH5 on a tripod while trying to shoot stills with my Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens hand held. Every time a flock was approaching the moon at what seemed the proper trajectory to pass right in front, Mike and I alerted each other.

But focusing on the cranes was a challenge and I missed some shots because of my camera/lenses inability to lock on to a bird.

A memorable evening! Plan on being at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows next late October.

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1886

The moon rose large behind a stand of oaks but there was little contrast between the sky and the moon. But over the next half hour the moon began to pop as the sky turned from blue to twilight purple. This flock of cranes were lit by the last orange rays of the setting sun.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 640; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

 

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1835Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1846

Before the moon rose at 5:47pm, I took some flight shots with slow shutter speeds. I have so many sharp flight shots that I really don’t need more. Time to get a bit creative! So I slowed the shutter way down to 1/10 of a second at f20; ISO 100. The results are “very artistic” and impressionistic. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/10 second at f20; ISO 100; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015] (top photo at 1/30 second)

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1931

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1956

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI P1044348

This is a single frame extracted from a HD slow motion video. Not the sharpest shot, but still very pleasing in a painterly way.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm f4/5-6.1 lens; 1/320 second; tripod; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2046

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 118mm; 1/100 second at f9; ISO 1000; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1822Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI P1044352Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI P1044354

A couple “selective focus” shots. Basically impossible to get both the cranes and moon in sharp focus in the same shot (unless the cranes were about 2 miles away) so I tried some photos where I focused on the moon instead of the cranes.

These are single frames extracted from a HD slow motion video.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm f4/5-6.1 lens; 1/320 second; tripod; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2119

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 400;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2313Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2251Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2297

The above three photos of the roosting Sandhill Cranes were taken well AFTER SUNSET. Long exposures on a tripod. As usual, I was the last car at the spot. You never know what image might present itself after the “main show” is over.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO400;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2106Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2106-2

The above two photos are probably my favorites from the entire shoot. The top is the uncrossed version, and the bottom is cropped to just 4 cranes. I like that they are very SHARP for being hand-held (way to go “steady Sparky”!). I also really like the even spread of cranes and the position of the legs and wings of the crane silhouetted by the moon. And of course, the purple sky color is a bonus.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO400;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2204

As the moon continued to rise after sunset, the color was washed from the sky. The only option was to catch a flock as they passed right in front of the moon.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO1600;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2399

On my way out of Crex Meadows I saw this sight; three Trumpeter Swans silhouetted by the nearly-full moon’s reflection on a marsh. I took a bunch of handheld shots at ISO 12,800(!!), but should have set up a tripod since most are unusable.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 200mm; 1/60 second at f5.6; ISO 12,800; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]