Posts tagged ‘wildlife photography’

Superior Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1567
Snowy Owl Superior Airport Bong Superior WI IMG_1497
[Continued from previous post]…There have been no Snowies in the Sax-Zim Bog this year so Dave and I headed to the urban “wilds” of Superior, Wisconsin (Duluth’s neighbor in the “Twin Ports”). We found two Snowies but they were not equally photogenic. One had been banded and painted by researchers so it could be identified from long distances. We got a few “insurance shots” and continued our search.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1562Snowy Owls have been wintering in the industrial areas of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin for many years. When I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early/mid 1980s, we would go down to the Port Terminal in the harbor (where all the warehouses and shipping docks were) and we could easily find a half dozen. There were probably a couple dozen wintering between there and Superior’s docks.

At that time, the harbor was a brushy mess crisscrossed by railroad tracks and dotted with junk piles and open garbage cans. It was the perfect environment for rabbits, pigeons, pheasants and rats…all great Snowy Owl food.
[All owl-in-flight shots taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens set at Shutter Priority 1/1250 second and auto ISO. ISO ranged from 640 to 800 and f-stop ranged from f5.6 to f8]

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1559
Less than a mile away, we found this stunning female/young male (You can’t really tell, but in general, the darker the bird the younger it is and more likely a female). Don’t get me wrong, I love the nearly pure white adult males, but the speckled patterning on this bird was very pleasing.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1561
Of course she sat on every ugly perch she could find…telephone pole, chain-link fence, scoreboard (see below). So we waited until she pooped. Why?, you might ask. Raptors always seem to “jettison” excess waste which is weight they don’t need to carry with them when they fly. Then she did and I held down the finger on my Canon 7D with the Canon 400mm f5.6 set to AI focus so the lens would continue to focus on the flying bird.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1569 FLATI couldn’t resist a little fun when I saw this Snowy land on the middle school’s baseball scoreboard. After all, she is a “guest from the tundra,” just with us for the winter!

Cactus in Minnesota?—Blue Mounds State Park: Part 2

Prickly Pear Cactus 3 1024x
CACTUS IN MINNESOTA?
Yes, actually two species of Prickly Pear Cactus occur in southwest Minnesota…Opuntia fragilis and Opuntia macrorhiza. And Blue Mounds State Park is a great place to see them for yourself. No, not giant cartoon-type cactus but a low-growing cactus with GORGEOUS and HUGE yellow blossoms. They should be blooming now! To make sure, call the park office in advance.
Purple Prairie Clover? 234_3452 copyIf you squint, you can almost imagine a time when tallgrass prairie covered the endless landscapes of southern and western Minnesota. And Purple Prairie-Clover (Dalea purpurea) was part of that rich mosaic of prairie wildflowers.
This species is a legume with a taproot that may reach down 6 feet into the soil! This root system helps prevent soil erosion. It is a true prairie plant that has evolved with fire, and does not tolerate shade. Pronghorns are even known to eat it.

Bison foursome Blue Mounds 153_5345 copyA looming thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to these grazing Bison. Don’t let me mislead you…There is a fence around the entire herd, and they are not always visible to park visitors.

Bison run blur Blue Mounds State Park Luverne MN _MG_5157 copyIn 1961, the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds’ herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

Coneflower Blue Mounds Rock Co MNNotice the deeply cut leaves and extemely reflexed ray petals of the Pinnate Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) (sometimes called Gray-headed Coneflower). To emphasize the incredible five-foot height of this prairie native, I crouched down with my wide angle lens and put the flowering heads “in the clouds” so to speak. This photo would not have had much impact if taken at “eye-level” with the flowers.

Gray Partridge near Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNGray Partridge, the bird formerly known as Hungarian Partridge, are not easy to find…anywhere. So I was very fortunate to run into this breeding-plumaged male near the park. They are one of the few birds that utilize seemingly barren crop fields that surround the park. I lost the original of this image when I dropped a hard drive years ago, but fortunately I printed a 4×6. This is a scan of that 4×6 print.

Turkey Vulture Blue Mounds State Park landscape Rock Co MN IMG_9978A Turkey Vulture soars over the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. This is the same tree and Sioux Quartzite outcrop as in another photo in this post.

Great Horned Owl cliff, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5237Cliffs can be habitat too. This Great Horned Owl has made a home of the Quartzite cliffs on the east side of the park. Hiking trails parallel the cliffs along the base and also on top of the bluff.

GHOW-SS in flight, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5240We rarely see Great Horned Owls in flight during the day. So when this guy took off, I held down the shutter. He/she then obligingly banked to reveal the full spread of its large wings and a full tail fan. The fact that he/she peeked over his/her shoulder at me was a bonus.

Rock Wren BlueMoundsSP-Stensaas (1)RARE FIND
I found this singing Rock Wren at the top of a cliff several Junes ago. The closest this western bird regularly breeds to Minnesota would be the Black Hills of South Dakota, over 300 miles away! Unfortunately, this guy did not find a mate here and likely moved on.

Tree and Sioux Quartzite Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNSome outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are more red than others, and this one also has excellent patterning with crusted green lichens. This scene is near the drive up to the Interpretive Center. The Box Elder (I think it’s a Box Elder) adds to the composition that might be a little boring without it.

Bison Rainbow Blue Mounds-Stensaas copyA dawn rainstorm spawned a sunrise rainbow. The clouds, 180 degrees from the rising sun, lit up a beautiful pink color. In order to get the entire arc of the rainbow, I used my 10mm lens (equivalent of a 16mm lens as it was on my camera with a 1.6 crop factor) and placed the Bison underneath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to lift his head, but to no avail. I still like this unique image.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Bison calves

It was mid May and calving time in the Bison herds of Yellowstone and Teddy Roosevelt…And as the father of a 4-year-old and 5-year-old, I can really see the similarities in these wild babies and my kids…TONS of energy, lots of playing, stick close to mommy, and darn cute!

Bison calf and cow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9441Aaaah! How cute! I love this shot. It really shows the bond between mother and calf. A little nuzzling for reassurance.

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9476 HISTORY OF BISON IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[from the official park website: “In 1956, 29 bison were brought from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and released in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here they roamed freely on 46,000 acres of park land and by 1962 the herd had increased to 145 animals. That year, 10 bulls and 10 cows were relocated to the 24,000-acre North Unit.”

“Though both units of the park can easily carry larger numbers of bison, park managers have currently set herd size at approximately 200 to 400 animals for the South Unit and 100 to 300 for the North Unit to maintain healthy range conditions.”

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9465Two adolescent bulls go head to head in a play battle.
[From park website: “Cow groups usually consist of 20-60 animals composed of cows, bulls under 3 years, and a few old bulls. The herd is led by an older cow. As they graze, the group will travel 10-15 miles each day moving at a speed of 5-6 miles per hour. Most bulls live alone or in bachelor groups of up to 20 animals. Bulls tend to become more solitary with age.”

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9449[From park website: “Cows usually conceive for the first time as three-year olds. Though calves can be born at any time of the year, the calving season usually begins in April after a 9 month gestation period. Calves are orange-red in color and are up and moving within 3 hours of birth. They stay very close to their mother for the first few weeks. Cows are very protective of their young. Eventually, calves venture further away from their mothers, playing with other youngsters in nursery groups, while always under the watchful eyes of other cows within the herd. After 3 months, the orange-red baby coloration starts to change to dark brown and the hump and horns begin to form. Calves remain with their mothers for about a year, or until another calf is born.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT BISON AT THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE HERE

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Prairie Dogs and friends

Ryan and I often break up the 17 hour drive home to Minnesota from Yellowstone with a night and half a day in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. The 36-mile auto loop is a fantastic road for wildlife photography…And no crowds!
Prairie Dog village Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9549 Prairie Dogs are truly charismatic critters. How can you not like them? Well, I guess cattle ranchers hate them as cows can step in a hole and break their legs. But they’ve been successfully eradicated on much of the private lands of the west.

We tried this unique shot last year but came up empty (Not every wildlife photo must be taken with a telephoto lens!). We placed our cameras with a wide angle lens near the mouth of a Prairie Dog hole…then we retreated to the hillside and waited to trigger the shutter remotely. But Prairie Dogs have interconnected tunnels with many exits/entrances, and they usually outsmarted us. And the same thing seemed to be happening to us this time, but after we had given up and were heading back to the car, one Prairie Dog seemed reluctant to go down his hole as I approached. Maybe curious, maybe young, maybe not too experienced, but “brave” enough to poke his head out to check out the “three-legged predator” just outside his home. “Click” …got the shot. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 16mm, f13 at 1/800, tripod with remote trigger]

IMG_6144 The North Dakota badlands are much more lush and green than the South Dakota badlands [iPhone!]

Lark Sparrow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9227 Lark Sparrows are very common in Teddy Roosevelt but rare in northern Minnesota. It was a real treat to see and hear many along the auto loop. This guy posed in the tip top of a Rocky Mountain Juniper. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250 (max flash sync speed), Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer attachment (to extend the reach of the flash), handheld]

Western Meadowlark Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9366 Western Meadowlarks are a symbolic bird of the grasslands of the American West. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/400, handheld from car (This is an exposure between firings of the flash…The flash needs to recycle after every firing, so it is best to set your exposure so even between firings you get a decent exposure of your subject.]

Mule Deer Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9381 Check out those ears! Mule Deer, in fact, are named for their ears which are oversized as in Mules. It was a very dark, rainy, gray day so the color balance was a bit weird so I converted the image to black-and-white for better effect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, handheld from car]

Yellowstone May 2014—Getting Creative

Bison Frosty face near Norris Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7449Bridget specifically said “No frosty Bison photos! You have enough of them” But this one is a bit different. I converted the image to black and white then clipped the whites and blacks of the histogram to make a more high contrast image. It more accurately reflects what I remember from the Bison encounter than the original image. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250, handheld]

Harlequin Ducks LeHardy Rapids Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7346I used a long exposure on these Harlequin Ducks to allow the river to blur nicely. But you have to take many photos as the ducks were constantly fidgeting.

Elk herd frosty morning Mammoth to Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8230 [Canon 7D with Canon 85mm f1.2 lens, f1.2 at 1/2000, handheld]

Elk herd frosty morning Mammoth to Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8242The two images above were taken early in the morning between Mammoth and Tower Junction. You don’t always need the sun at your back! Backlighting can really be quite dramatic. I love how the rim light defines the elk’s shapes and makes the spring leaves pop. Also keep in mind that shadows often show as blue to our cameras and it contrasts nicely with the green leaves. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, -1EV, handheld]

Bighorn ewe reflection Mammoth to Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6790Did you do a double take when you looked at this image? This is a reflection of a Bighorn ewe that I flipped 180 degrees. Have fun and experiment! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1250, handheld]

Ryan Marshik silhouette Nikon 600mm tripod Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8119Shapes often tell as much of a story as detailed subjects. I underexpeosed by nearly two stops to get this silhouette of Ryan hauling his 600mm f4 on a tripod across the snowy Hayden Valley. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/6400, -1 2/3 EV handheld]

Grizzly silhouette Mary's Bay Yellowstone Lake Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_9054 - Version 2Our wildlife subjects don’t always need to be large in the frame. But we really have to work to remember this and actually shoot “animal in the landscape” shots. Ryan and I had followed (by car) this sow and second-year cub for a while, but they cut up this steep hillside. I turned the camera vertical to emphasize the tall trees. Her backlit breath was a bonus. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, handheld]

Common Raven Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7195 I rented the Canon 85mm f1.2 lens for this trip specifically to play with extremely shallow depth of field in wildlife photography. This lens is commonly used in portrait photography to achieve very shallow DOF. This obliging Raven allowed me to get quite close and the result is a unique critter image with only an inch or two of in focus bird. [Canon 7D with Canon 85mm f1.2 lens, f1.2 at 1/2500 sec., handheld]

Yellowstone Falls long exposure visitors Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7824This is a very different perspective on one of the most visited sites in Yellowstone…the Falls of the Yellowstone River. I set up my tripod back from the overlook and put on the wide angle lens. Then I attached a B+W 9-stop ND (neutral density filter to slow down the exposure in order to record the motion of visitors gawking at the falls (and taking selfies!). Of course, there were a dozen people here just before I got set up, then they all vanished. Where’s the bus of Japanese tourists when you want them! [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens and B+W 9-stop ND filter, f11 at 15 seconds, ISO 100, tripod]

Moonrise full at Silver Gate Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8216 Though the full moon ruined any plans we had for star trail photos, it made up for it during this moonrise at Silver Gate. The only way to get a large moon in your photos is to use a very long telephoto lens. But put an “earthbound” element into your photo to give the full moon scale. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/125, tripod]

Tamarack-ulous!

It is the time of year when almost all the deciduous trees are past peak and many have lost all their leaves. But there is one amazing tree that is just coming into its full glory…The Tamarack. This is our only deciduous coniferous tree. What? It means that though it has needles like spruces, fir, pine, they all drop off the tree every fall (deciduous)…But before they do, they turn an amazing yellow-gold, making the bogs blaze with color.

Tamarack Reflections Lima Mtn Road Cook Co MN SparkyStensaas 778_7861 (1)Sadly, this scene will never be repeated…These perfectly situated Tamaracks along the Lima Mountain Road in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest have all succumbed to the Eastern Larch Beetle.

FUN TAMARACK FACTS
1. The name “tamarack” comes from the Algonquin people of eastern Canada and means “wood used for snowshoes.” The Algonquins also gave us the name “moose.”
2. Also known as “larch” and “hackmatack”
3. Grows from Labrador to the Yukon and Alaska, south to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan east to Indiana, New York, Maryland. But the largest pure stands in the Lower 48 are in Minnesota.
4. Latin name is Larix laricina
5. Extremely cold tolerant! Can survive winter temps down to MINUS 85 F!
6. Also very rot resistant…In fact, when we built our house, our builder suggested Tamarack for the front porch. We had a local mill saw it up for us.
7. Eastern Larch Beetle (Dendroctonus simplex) is a native enemy of the Tamarack. Outbreaks in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota have been quite severe in recent years. A bane to the trees, is a boon to woodpeckers, bringing in irruptions of Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers and Black-backed Woodpeckers who flake bark from the trunks to get to the juicy grubs beneath. These rarely seen birds also bring in throngs of birders to see the birds.

Northern Hawk Owl NHOW-SS (Friesens Test)Ryan Marshik and I found this Northern Hawk Owl on a early November foray to Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It was perfectly teed up on a Black Spruce with a background of slightly-past-prime Tamaracks. Ryan quickly and graciously loaned me his Canon 500mm f4 and 1.4 extender and we were able to get this shot out the window of the car.
[Canon 10D, Canon 500mm f4 lens w/1.4x tele-extender, f5.6 at 1/160 second at ISO 400 (taken in 2004)]

Tamarack Yellow Motion Blur Toivola Swamp Sax-Zim Bog MNA very windy day in the Toivola Swamp adjacent to the Sax-Zim Bog. I decided to interpret the Tamarack gold in a new way…Leave the shutter open for a longer exposure and let the wind do its thing. And the amazing thing is that I like the result!
[Taken in the “film days”…Can you believe it?! …Probably with a Nikon FM2]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946Taken just a few days ago in the Sax-Zim Bog as the Tamaracks were approaching peak color. This curious Gray Jay came in to my squeaks. I like the fact that the Jay shares the starring role with the wispy yellow Tamarack foliage.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash (without Better Beamer)]

Tamaracks McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_9306Tamaracks and a brooding sky, Oct 21, Sax-Zim Bog.
[Canon 7D and Tamron 60mm f2 lens]

Hairy Woodpecker in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8934A bit of yellow Tamarack foliage adds nice contrast to the primarily black-and-white Hairy Woodpecker. The red bar on the back of his head makes this Hairy a He and not a She. Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens]

Dream Come True: Witness to a Great Gray Owl nest

Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410Two Great Gray Owlets await mommy or daddy from their lofty nest in a large Tamarack.

I had the great fortune of having a good friend who was willing to share the location of a Great Gray Owl nest he had found recently. Kim Risen is a professional bird guide based out of Tamarack, Minnesota, who leads birding trips across the globe, from South Africa to South America to Costa Rica to Mexico and even in his ‘backyard’ of northern Minnesota. Kim found this nest on a June trip with a client. He’d seen young in this general vicinity several times over several different years. He graciously shared the site with me.

I first visited the Black Spruce/Tamarack bog with Kim and his wife Cindy on June 18th and made several more visits, the last on June 28th. Two owlets were in the nest until at least June 24th, then must have “flew the coup” around June 27th or 28th when we found them on the ground.

VIDEO SHOWING BEHAVIOR & COMMENTARY ON FAVORITE PHOTOS (7 MINUTES)

You can see more of my wildlife videos HERE

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7396Note mom in the bottom left corner of the image…She was never very far away. The young were generally silent…until they saw an adult when they gave a loud screech (can hear it late in the video). But the female often gave a rising “Whoop!” call. Robert Nero, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Great Gray Owls, says this call “is often given by the female on the nest as a means of communicating with the male.” Robert Taylor, author of The Great Gray Owl: On Silent Wings calls this is “food request call” and it is given more frequently during years of low vole supplies. It likely helps the male find the female too as he delivers the food to her so she can feed the owlets. May this also be the female’s form of communication with the owlets?…”You’re okay…I’m right here.”

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390On June 28th I went to photograph the owlets from my blind…But I saw no action in the nest. Just as I was contemplating this, I simultaneously heard my cell phone ring as well as a screech from ground level. I assumed the screech was one of the owlets who’d left the nest. It was Kim on the phone and he was in the bog and had seen the young on the ground. As he was talking I found one of the owlets ‘teed up’ on a stump… “Found one! Gotta go.” I set up my tripod and folding chair, then draped camo netting over myself and started shooting. The owlet stared at me for 20 minutes without taking its eyes off me, though its posture relaxed over this time. Then when he/she was comfortable that I was not a predator, the owlet started to look around, and even stretch.

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002STREEEEETCH! FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO CLIP. The young Great Grays often stretched like this…Working their flight muscles I imagine. Fortunately he was facing me head on and gave me this unique perspective. [Note that when you extract a frame from a HD video clip you only get a 1920x1080pixel image to work with…and it’s shot at 1/60 second…and its basically a jpeg. Very limited use, but fine for the web].

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7389Though the owlets can’t fly at this age, they sure can get around! They will walk across the bog then climb leaning trees and stumps by using their talons for grip and using their beak to grab branches like a parrot, pulling themselves up, wings held over their back for balance.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2 (1)The ticket to not alarming wild critters is to move slowly, stay low, avoid eye contact, and talk to them in a low soft voice (don’t whisper!). And stay in plain sight so you are not mistaken for a sneaky predator. I got very close to this owlet…Close enough to use my 10-20mm lens with full flash. I love the low angle and wide perspective which really puts the owl in its habitat.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7343

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7302Eye-level shot with Canon 400mm f5.6. I WISH I’d put my big flash and Better Beamer on! The images looked okay on the LCD but there is a weird greenish cast from the light filtering down through the canopy. Live and learn!

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7410The sibling to the owlet on the stump, is this fuzzball. I found him/her on a comfy cozy patch of super-soft Sphagnum moss. I laid on my belly, crawled towards her (got soaking wet!) and inched to within a foot of her/him. He/she began bill clacking, an alarm signal, so I snapped a few photos (full flash) and backed off.

I wish this little family well and hope they find many fat voles!

[All photos and video taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Sigma 10-20mm lens, Canon 580EX flash, Cabela’s Lightning Set pop-up blind, Manfrotto tripod]