Posts tagged ‘wildlife’

Up the Gunflint in early September

September 2, 2016:

Every time we start working on a new Kollath-Stensaas field guide to the North Woods, I get obsessed with the topic at hand. This time it is dragonflies…and I’ve been out multiple times a week since late July (I got a very late start and wish my obsession would have kicked in about May 20th when the first dragonflies are emerging). And so with net and camera stowed, I headed 2 1/2 hours up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail. By leaving at 4:30am I was able to be out shooting by 7:30am. No Moose or Black Bear, but I did hear a Black-backed Woodpecker along the Lima Grade, but my real quarry was odonates (dragonflies & damselflies).

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I spent most of the day along the Lima Grade in the Superior National Forest on the edge of the Boundary Waters in Cook County, Minnesota. Road conditions are fine but you hope you don’t meet too many folks headed in the other direction!

Common Raven South Brule Road Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7483

An unusually tame Common Raven voices her displeasure at my attention. Normally, northern ravens skidaddle at the first hint that you may even be thinking about tapping the brake of your vehicle. She let me stop and even stick my 400mm lens out the window for a few seconds before flapping off. [South Brule Road, Cook County, Minnesota]IMG_7584

Beaver pond gloriously ringed with Bidens cernua, Nodding Bur-Marigold. This is where I spent a couple hours hanging out and waiting for dragonflies.katydid Oblong-winged Katydid Amblycorypha oblongifolia Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7624

Insect photography requires quite a bit of discomfort….sometimes from other insects such as mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies, etc….and sometimes from contorting your body into unnatural positions to get the right angle. To make a creative shot of this Oblong-winged Katydid.IMG_7635

darner Shadow Darner Aeshna umbrosa male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7715darner Shadow Darner Aeshna umbrosa male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7716IMG_4538

The three photos above are of the Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) that I netted as he patrolled this small roadside pond. They are one of the most handsome of darners, me thinks. Note his wedge-type claspers, straight-edged thoracic stripes that are yellowish on the bottom transitioning to blue-green at the top.darner Variable Darner Aeshna interrupta male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7730

The “spotted” form of Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta) shows two pairs of two spots on its thorax.

darner Variable Darner Aeshna interrupta male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7542

Face and multi-faceted eyes of the Variable Darner.darner Zigzag Darner Aeshna sitchensis Lima Mountain Road Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7807

Late in the afternoon, I finally found one of my target species along a stretch of Lima Mountain Road…A Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis)…only the second one I’ve ever seen! (The first was years ago at Hartley Park in the city limits of Duluth). This dragonfly of the far north makes its home in boggy areas from Alaska to Labrador, reaching south into the northern Rockies (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana), northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and northern New England. Unlike most darners, these guys prefer to perch on the ground, and once you locate one (usually on a gravel road like the one above). It is easily recognizable by its brown and light blue abdomen, narrow “zigzag” thorax stripes, small size for a darner, and its habit of perching on the ground.

darner Variable Darner Aeshna interrupta striped form green form female Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7757

Didn’t I just say that Zigzag Darners were partly identified by their habit of perching on the ground? Well, I guess Variable Darners do it too, as I saw TWO green-form females also perching on the surface of gravel roads (both on the Lima Grade).

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My first and last stop of the day was Artist’s Point in Grand Marais where I found a “Jesus Mallard” walking on water.rock signatures Artist's Point Grand Marais MN IMG_7409rock signatures Artist's Point Grand Marais MN IMG_7414

Now that’s graffiti! It speaks to an earlier time when folks had more time to spend on their vandalism…Note that Hilda Brekken (no doubt a Norwegian farmer’s daughter) even pecked her name and hometown into the rock-hard rock in CURSIVE! She likely traveled by train to Duluth from Osakis, Minnesota then took the America (a supply boat) up the North Shore to Grand Marais. There was NO ROAD to this part of Minnesota in 1901 (date of this “pecked petroglyph”). The North Shore road was not constructed until 1920s, and not fully paved until 1933.

Artist's Point Lake Superior Grand Marais MN IMG_7814The quaint harbor of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

[All macro photo taken with Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with Canon 500D close up lens attachment, handheld]

Best Wildlife Photos of 2015 (non-bird)

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

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

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

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996 Backlit Bison

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

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

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

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN Bobcat IMG_3390

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3373

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3429 Pretty Kitty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mule Deer Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7551

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

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

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

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

Pretty Kitty—Carlton County Bobcat

It is good to have a network of friends, and for many reasons—Friends you shoot with, friends who can give you critique and feedback, and friends who give you tips on wildlife locations. And my buddy Gene helped me with the latter. I think the text said something like “the bobcat came back this morning” This was monumental news! How could he state that so nonchalantly? I called him immediately and was set up on his property in a remote part of Carlton County, Minnesota the next day. A mere 25 minute drive from my house, I got there just after sunrise.
On the way up his long winding drive, a movement caught my eye. A winter-white Snowshoe Hare had hopped a few yards but was now sitting motionless. Too bad the Bobcat hadn’t seen this tasty meal. Witnessing a chase scene would have been a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3429 1024pxAfter about 45 minutes of sitting quietly, it was an unbelievable thrill when Gene whispered, “Here she comes.” (We’ll call her “she” as her size seems small and features delicate…Plus, what a pretty face!). She cautiously slipped between the hazel brush, slinking her way towards the road-killed deer that Gene had provided.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3390 1024pxSensing her surroundings with acute hearing and smell and vision, she crept closer, occasionally stopping to sit and relax, making sure the coast was clear. In the nearly 3 hours we sat there, she came in about four times, but retreating after a few minutes.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3339 1024pxBobcats have increased in Minnesota over the last few decades. In an article titled “Bountiful Bobcats” in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Jan/Feb 2014, the author quotes “From the 1970s up to about 2000, bobcat population numbers were fairly low and stable, according to John Erb, furbearer biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. But starting around 2000, the bobcat population increased rapidly. It grew for about eight years and now appears to be stabilized at about 5,200 in spring and 8,200 in fall. (That’s well above the levels observed from 1977 to 1997—about 1,700 in spring and 2,300 in fall.) Erb and other wildlife managers hope to better understand the causes and potential implications of this bobcat resurgence.” See the entire article here

Snowshoe Hare Gene Letty's homestead CR104 Carlton Co MN IMG_3279Snowshoe Hare that greeted me on my way into Gene’s cabin…A rare sight!

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3373 1024pxThe Volunteer article goes on to say, “An adult is roughly 3 feet long including its short, “bobbed” 4- to 7-inch tail. Adult males, or toms, can weigh more than 30 pounds and occasionally over 40. Adult females usually weigh 20 to 25 pounds.”

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3414 1024pxWhy are they increasing? John Erb is the MN DNR’s furbearer biologist…”Erb suspects multiple reasons for the recent bobcat population explosion, although he stresses the need for more research to winnow out the causes. One possible factor is the changing climate. Minnesota is at the northern extent of bobcat distribution in North America. Bobcats are less efficient deep-snow predators than are Canada lynx, which have thicker fur, longer legs, and oversized paws.”

“Milder winters might be aiding survival rates, particularly for younger animals,” Erb says. “Female bobcats might also be coming through winter in better condition, so they might be having better reproductive output and survival of kittens.”

“Forest management could also be playing a role. Erb says disturbed and younger forests often provide dense cover and abundant edge habitat, which bobcats and some of their prey prefer. He believes this habitat has expanded due to increased logging that began in the mid-1980s, accelerated in the early 1990s, and continued until recent years. He points to a similar pattern of young forests, plentiful deer, and booming bobcat populations in the 1940s and ’50s, following turn-of-the-century logging, fires, and other forest disturbances.” From the article by Jacob Edson “Bountiful Bobcats” in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Jan/Feb 2014

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3376 1024px“Another factor that could be affecting bobcat populations is the increase in deer and turkey populations. Bobcats prey on deer, particularly fawns, and scavenge on dead deer, especially during winter.” Surprisingly, Bobcats are also able to take down adult deer.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3434 1024pxOne researcher has also noted that Fishers are declining in the core Bobcat range in Minnesota. Is it because they are competing for some of the same prey? Bobcats will also kill adult Fishers.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3528 1024pxForested parts of Minnesota may harbor one Bobcat per six to seven square miles. Lynx, which are better adapted to deep snow, replace Bobcats in the Arrowhead region.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3440 1024pxThis fact really surprised me. Did you know that Lynx on average weigh less than Bobcats? They rarely top 25 pounds while Bobcat Toms can top 40 pounds! It is the very long legs and large feet of a Lynx that gives us the impression of a larger animal.

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3306 1024px

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3530 1024pxFeeding daily on this carcass for nearly a week, she still is cautious when approaching her “prize.”

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3422 1024pxI’ll post a video of her in the next blog post.

[Most images shot under low light with heavy overcast skies; Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second at ISO 1000. Firmly locked on tripod!]

[The two images of the Bobcat actually feeding at the deer carcass were taken at f5.6 at 1/160 second at ISO 1600]

Minnesota’s Wild West—Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park has always been a favorite place of mine. The expansive prairie, Bison herd, rocky cliffs, and Dakota Indian history add to the exotic flavor and very “western” feel in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Located in extreme southwest Minnesota, the park is part of the Prairie Coteau (Coteau des Prairie) landscape; A plateau that rises a couple hundred feet above the surrounding prairie in parts of eastern South Dakota, North Dakota and western Iowa and Minnesota.

I camped here over the Memorial Day Weekend. I was down with my folks for my cousin’s wedding but squeezed in a few hours of photography.

Quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0214The escarpment of Sioux Quartzite at Blue Mounds rises vertically about 100 feet from the surrounding prairie. Local lore insists that the Lakota (i.e. Dakota, Sioux) used to use the cliffs to their hunting advantage, stampeding herds of Bison off the edge and to their deaths, then collecting the carcasses at the bottom. Locals claim that early settlers found huge piles of Bison bones at the base of the cliffs. But the MN DNR claims that no evidence exists to substantiate this scenario.

Quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0210

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9935The best place in Minnesota to see Common Nighthawks in their natural habitat and performing their “booming” courtship flights is the parking lot area of Blue Mounds Interpretive Center off CR8. A startlingly loud “WHOOSH” comes from the sky just above you. Looking up you see Nighthawk going into a dive, air rushing over the leading edge of its arched wings to create the sound. The booming is used to attract mates, signal territory and possibly to drive off intruders. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9920Nighthawks are neither nocturnal nor a hawk. What they are is a member of the Caprimulgidae, or “Goatsuckers”, another unfortunate and inaccurate name. A possible story on how this name came to be may be rooted in European lore. There are relatives of this bird in England, and they will feed on aerial insects kicked up by herds of livestock. Maybe a shepherd 150 years ago noticed these birds flying around his goats one evening, then just by chance they gave poorly (milk) the next day. The shepherd puts 2 and 2 together and comes up with 5…The birds must have sucked the milk from his goats! Of course this is a ridiculous idea and not true in any aspect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9939And here is the Nighthawk in flight! Though it is hard to believe that this bird’s tiny bill will open up to reveal a large gaping mouth, it is essential to their feeding style. At dusk and again in the morning, Nighthawks take to the air to feed on flying insects. They dive and perform aerial acrobatics as they inhale hundreds of mosquitos, midges, flies and other insects. Aerial Vacuum Cleaners! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Blue Mounds State Park Sioux Quartzite and Wild RosesThe rosey Sioux Quartzite compliments the pink of the Wild Roses.

Blue Grosbeak near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0423 The Blue Grosbeak is a rare bird in Minnesota. Blue Mounds State Park (especially near the Interpretive Center of CR8) is the best and easiest place to find them in the state. Here is a highly cropped image of a male..They are not easy to get close to! Minnesota is at the far northern edge of their U.S. range. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Wilson's Phalarope Hardwick Sewage Ponds Rock Co MN IMG_0324I took a side trip to the nearby Hardwick, Minnesota Sewage Ponds. Even though it was Memorial Day weekend, I found a very late Greater White-fronted Goose and this male Wilson’s Phalarope preening peacefully. Of course, we always want to get eye-level with our subjects so I had to crawl on the goose-poop laced grass of the sewage pond to get the shot. Who said wildlife photography is glamourous? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Warbling Vireo near swimming beach Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0164I do not have many photos of Warbling Vireos (fairly uncommon in northern Minnesota) so I took the opportunity when there were several near the swimming beach defending their territories. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Orchard Oriole near swimming beach Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0146Not the Baltimore Oriole we are all familiar with, this is the smaller cousin, the Orchard Oriole. Found in wooded edges, farmsteads, groves, and backyards across southern Minnesota. This is my first semi-decent photo of one. I’ll take it! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Canada Goose family sunset silhouette Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0088I can never pass up a good silhouette. This Canada Goose family was swimming on the small reservoir at sunset. I underexposed by a couple stops to create the silhouette and rich colors in the water. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Next time, more photos from past trips to Blue Mounds State Park in extreme SW Minnesota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Wild Horses running Wild

On our way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I stayed the night in Medora, North Dakota and spent the next morning shooting in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It is a fantastic place for wildlife photography…and far less crowded than Yellowstone! Though it doesn’t have bears or Moose it does have Bison, Pronghorns, Coyote, Mule Deer and, in the North Unit, Elk and Bighorns. It also has two very photogenic species that Yellowstone lacks…Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (also Rattlesnakes in summer!).
Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339 copyThe band of wild horses and foals. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, tripod]

The morning dawned dismal and rainy but we weren’t about to pass up the amazing 25-mile?? wildlife auto loop. Coming around a bend, we actually saw a car parked along the road. We had to stop and see what was up. Off on a nearby hillside was what we thought was a researcher studying a band of wild horses. The horses then stared at us (or so we thought). A couple foals were in the herd too. We waited until she returned to the road and indeed she was researching the sex lives of the horses (basically). But she told us that she thought the horses had seen another band of horses. We went cross country to try and get some shots. After setting up on the same hillside we noticed the horses all switched their attention from us to something unseen to the east. Sure enough, there came into view another band of horses. The leader of the band near us got very animated and stiffened up. He then trotted over to the other band and the leader of that band came out to meet him.

They circled each other, posturing the whole while. The other male then kicked with both hind legs narrowly missing “our” male. Evidently our male “won” and the other band drifted off while he ran back towards us. It was a fantastic opportunity to get some panning, motion-blur shots.

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9293Panning with running animals at a slow shutter speed is low percentage shooting, but sometimes you get lucky and get the head sharp but still show the motion in the legs. You need to choose a slow enough shutter speed to convey motion but not too slow so there is no chance of any part of the animal being sharp. The best shutter speed to start with would be 1/60 to 1/30 of a second. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9304Nothing is sharp in this shot (I wish the head was a tiny bit sharp) but I love the power and speed of this stallion as conveyed by the motion blur.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9306[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9310Kicking stallion. I didn’t really like the color in this shot…Seemed to distract from the kicking horse. So I converted it to black and white but it was still lacking something for an image portraying such power and aggression. Then I played with the contrast and Voila! I really liked it. Aggression, strength, power, energy. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339The same photo as the top photo. Do you like it better in color or black and white?

MORE ABOUT WILD HORSES IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[From official park website: “Feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park do not fall under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but are managed by existing park regulations. For many years the National Park Service attempted to remove all the horses from the park. This policy was reversed in 1970 when the horse was recognized as part of the historical setting. The park now retains a herd of 70-110 animals so that visitors may experience the badlands scene as it appeared during the open range ranching era of Theodore Roosevelt. In order to maintain this population level, the horses are rounded up every few years, and surplus animals are sold at public auction. Today, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few areas in the West where free-roaming horses may be readily observed.

Wild horses have existed in the badlands of western North Dakota since the middle of the 19th century. While ranching near Medora in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

In a great many–indeed, in most–localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cowboys in the Medora area often captured wild badlands horses for use as ranch or rodeo stock. Prior to the establishment of the park in 1947, local ranchers used this area to graze their livestock. A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. Of the few small bands of horses that eluded capture, several were thought to be the descendants of horses that had run free in the badlands since at least the turn of the century.

Some of the horses in the park do bear a striking resemblance to the types of horses common in this area during the 19th century. As depicted in drawings and early photographs, local horses of that era were typically large-headed, short-backed, and a bit larger than the mustang of the southern Plains. They were often blue or red roans, many having “bald” (white) faces and patches of white on their sides. This color pattern, called an “apron,” may be familiar from the paintings of Frederic Remington and C.M. Russell, but is seldom seen in modern horses.

Wild horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Frequently a subdominant stallion will “run second” to the leader. Stallions herd their mares by extending their heads and necks low to the ground in a threatening gesture known as “snaking.” When a band is in flight, a dominant mare will take the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. Young stallions roam together in “bachelor” groups, sometimes in proximity to a stallion harem.”

Top Ten Action Shots 2013

Action images are always one of the goals of a wildlife photographer. Nature is in constant motion, and capturing a frozen moment in time is always exciting. Here are my favorite action shots of 2013.
Blue-winged Teal Fond du Lac Bridge area Duluth MN IMG_9912Blue-winged Teal in flight. As you can see, even 1/1600 of a second didn’t entirely freeze this duck’s wings. But that’s okay. I think a bit of motion blur in the wings adds to the photo, making it a bit less static. Of course, this wouldn’t be acceptable for the head. Near the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, handheld]

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480Backlit Trumpeter Swans coming in for a landing. If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, Minnesota, you’ve got to make a mid-winter pilgrimage to this tiny city park in Monticello. This stretch of the Mississippi River stays open and ice-free the entire winter due to the nuclear power plant upstream. And the swans love it! They also get a free hand out from one of the local residents. I like the backlit wings and blue shadows of this image. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250 second, ISO 250, handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7856
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7840This is a shot that I’d dreamed of for quite a while…a Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing atop the snow in morning light. It happened this year (2013) on my first trip out to the DNR blind near the lek (dancing grounds). It was April 26th and there was 8 inches os snow still on the ground (We’d had 48 inches of snow in April alone!). It was cloudy on my drive out but the clouds cleared soon after I got there. Long enough to get my dream shot. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Killdeer CR201 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8053I like animal behavior shots. This is a pair of Killdeer mating soon after returning to the North Woods in late April. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 100, handheld]

Common Merganser flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_6969Common Merganser flying through a snowstorm in April. Duluth, Minnesota near the St. Louis River.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640 second, ISO 160, tripod from blind]

Belted Kingfisher Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_5805I placed this perch in a marsh in hopes a Belted Kingfisher would use it…and within 10 minutes or so, one did! It even caught a fish from the perch. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Bald Eagle nr nest Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_7764Out on a spring walk, I evidently got too close to a Bald Eagle nest. This bird made several passes at me, giving its very squeaky alarm call. Douglas County, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 200, handheld]

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A plastic owl festooned with feathers from a feather duster enticed this American Kestrel to come in for a closer look. The male of this small falcon species is rusty-red and blue, an attractive combo. Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. See the full story here
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Manual exposure f7.1 at 1/2000 second, ISO 500, handheld]

Northern Hawk Owl Kolu Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072702Northern Hawk Owl hovering. These owls of remote bogs from Minnesota to Alaska hunt during the daytime…A very convenient trait for the wildlife photographer! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/2500 second, ISO 640, handheld]

Top Ten Creative Wildlife Images 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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