Posts tagged ‘Wisconsin’

Sandhill Cranes under a full Moon: Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

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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.

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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]

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Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Whooping Cranes, Karner Blue Butterflies, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Barrens Tiger Beetles…These are the reasons I made my first visit to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge near Nacedah, Wisconsin on July 20th. I was headed from my home in Wrenshall, Minnesota to pick up my kids at the home of my brother- and sister-in-law’s in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

I ended up spending 6 hours here! This is one of those refuges that welcomes visitors and really concentrates on education, unlike many of our National Wildlife Refuges.

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I hiked the 1.75 mile Boghaunter Trail and Boardwalk. It is named for the very rare Ringed Boghaunter dragonfly that lives in this fen. They emerge in May and have a short flight period so I did not see one on this trip…But I will be back!

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2528

Karner Melissa Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI

I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that the nickel-sized Karner Blue butterfly was abundant, and easily the most common butterfly species out and about. Its caterpillar food plant is the native Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) which was just done blooming, but that doesn’t phase the adults which nectar on many flower species including the abundant roadside flower Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

This butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies of the Melissa Blue.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f9; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink orchid fen Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2387

Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Swamp-Pink (or Grass-Pink) orchids dotted the fen near the Boardwalk along the Boghaunter Trail. This species likes fens that are not as acidic as bogs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 98mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f13; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2512

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2582

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia punctulata) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Though I did not find my lifer Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle, I did see many of the small Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata) named for the colorful pits on its elytra (wing covers). The are ferocious predators of other insects which it stalks on open sandy soil.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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Pine barrens savannah Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah, Wisconsin

Necedah NWR protects some of the original Pine barrens/savannah landscape of pre-settlement Wisconsin. Pines were mainly Red (Norway) Pine and Jack Pine. This spot was thick with Red-headed Woodpeckers.

[iPhone 7+]

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2283

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The habitat in the photo above is perfect for the Red-headed Woodpecker, a species which loves open savannah type landscapes with larger trees in which it excavates its nest cavities.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/4000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.33ev; hand-held]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2435

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). The lupines were WAY past peak, and only a few remained in flower.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 131mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f8; ISO 250; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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A “bachelor” group of American White Pelicans.

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Sandhill Crane feather Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Whoopers are not the only crane at Necedah; a Sandhill Crane feather is stained with iron-rich mud which the Sandhill coats its feathers with.

[iPhone 7+]

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Remains of a small bird; a snack for a bird of prey.

[iPhone 7+]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2466

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 163mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/100 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2481

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/640 sec. at f7.1; -0.66ev; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7272

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7268

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

I’d never heard of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty) until I read the first Necedah NWR brochure I picked up. It is at the far northeastern edge of its range in Central Wisconsin. It is most common along the East Coast and Southeast U.S. It prefers open, wet and acidic sites.

Also known by the fun name, “Handsome Harry.” It is in the Melastomataceae, a family of mostly tropical wildflowers. The pink petals are asymetrical in shape, and the stamens are bright yellow, thick and bent. A very cool “lifer” for me.

Rhexia virginica range map

Range map of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty or Handsome Harry). As you can see it reaches its northeastern range limit in south central Wisconsin.

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2565

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/200 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2553

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The above two photos are of a Northern Broken-Dash butterfly on Liatris wildflower (Gay-Feather).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 145mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2403

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2406

Plastron of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2417

Plastron and yellow throat of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2421

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

You don’t see Blanding’s Turtles every day so I was very excited to find this large (and presumably old) specimen along the boardwalk on Boghaunter Trail. He was shy but I flipped him over to examine the beautiful red-marked carapace, and his bright yellow throat. Don’t worry, I quickly tipped him back upright after I snapped a few photos.

“One of the most critically imperiled turtles to be found in North America is the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), named for William Blanding, a Philadelphia naturalist who first described it. They are found from Ontario, Canada; south to Iowa and back east as far as New York. There is a small population of about 300 found in Nova Scotia. The highest population densities are found in the Great Lakes region. They are listed as state endangered or a species of special concern in nearly every state they are found in. The biggest threat these turtles face is the loss of habitat due to agriculture and from major modifications to streams and rivers, such as dam building. Blanding’s turtles have very specific habitat requirements that include marshes, sloughs, ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, and vernal pools with shallow water, soft bottoms and large amounts of aquatic vegetation.” [Text from the Rattlesnake Education & Awareness Blog]

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Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Crane sculpture outside Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Five Hours in a Fen

I was able to combine business and pleasure yesterday (July 1st)… Well, It was really all business and a complete pleasure! I had heard of a bog near Cable, Wisconsin that held many Calopogon tuberosus orchids (Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink) and I was hoping to get video of their ingenious and devious pollination method (read more below).
This particular peatland is actually classified as a fen. What is the difference between a bog and a fen? Bogs are usually stagnant water with very acidic waters. Fens have some water movement and are more basic in pH and richer in nutrients.
Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink orchid IMG_2153 Calopogon tuberosus (Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink orchid) is a delightful mid summer orchid that grows in the floating mat of bogs and fens. Its flowers are “upside down” as the lip is actually on top. The insect-enticing yellow hairs are just a ruse…They fool insects into thinking that they are pollen-tipped or hold nectar, neither of which is true. If a heavy enough bee comes along, it gloms on to the yellow-tipped hairs and tries to extract some pollen. The flower has a built in hinge that collapses and drops the bee on to the sticky pollen packets below. The startled and frustrated bee flies off to try his luck at another Calopogon, and the scenario is repeated, though this time pollination is completed. Devious and Delightful orchid!
Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink IMG_2095
Note that on the middle right flower the hinge has already been collapsed by a visiting bee. Though I got video of several small syrphid flies visiting the orchid, none heavy enough to collapse the hinge paid a visit with my camera rolling. Oh well, a reason to go back!
flag spruce IMG_2207Believe me, I was shin deep in water and sinking fast as I took this image. This is an example of a “flag” spruce… A growth form that is very common in the subarctic lands. The “flag” is the upper branches while the nonexistent middle branches were scoured by winter winds and failed to thrive. The sprawling mass of branches low down on the trunk survived because they were protected by deep blanket of winter snow.
Elfin Skimmer male Nannothemis bella IMG_2109
Elfin Skimmer Nannothemis bella IMG_2114Elfin Skimmer male (Nannothemis bella)
A wonderful surprise! Just days after Jim Lind and Dave Grosshuesch found many Elfin Skimmers at the Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz III (a new species for Sax-Zim!) I got my lifer dragonfly! This is the smallest dragonfly in North America at a tad over 3/4 inch long…and the second smallest in the World (one in China is a bit smaller). The male is pruinose bluish and almost appears to have a clubbed abdomen when in flight.
Elfin Skimmer Nannothemis bella IMG_2087Elfin Skimmer Nannothemis bella IMG_2080Female Elfin Skimmers (Nannothemis bella) are very different than the males. They show a ringed black and yellow abdomen. Both the males and females perch often and only move a short distance when disturbed. These were found hunting around a bog pool mainly on the floating mat.
Pogonia ophioglossoides Rose Pogonia IMG_2048Another orchid was just coming into bloom… the Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) a delicate beauty of floating bogs. Genus name Ophioglossoides is from Greek meaning “snake tongue,” and I guess you’d have to use your imagination on that one, but the lower lip may resemble a fuzzy tongue to some.
Okanagana Cicada IMG_2134Okanagana Cicada IMG_1949A very exciting find was not one, but two singing Okanagana Cicadas. The male of each species produces a unique sound with their tymbal organs on their abdomen which vibrates and resonates in a cavity inside their abdomen and thorax. The Okanagana’s sound is a fast and steady high-pitched buzz.
Crimson-ringed Whiteface Leucorrhinia glacialis IMG_2146Crimson-ringed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia glacialis) is a bog-loving dragonfly of mid summer.
Lincoln's Sparrow IMG_2000Lincoln’s Sparrow was the most obvious avian bog dweller today, singing its beautiful hollow-can, echoey song from stunted Tamaracks and Spruces. Other birds seen in the bog included Nashville Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Red-tailed Hawk and Eastern Kingbird. The oak-maple covered hills surrounding the fen held Pileated Woodpeckers, Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-Pewees and other deciduous species that would have no use for a bog.
Rhynchospora alba White Beaksedge rush IMG_2019Rhynchospora alba or White Beakrush (or White-beaked Sedge) was very common surrounding the bog pools.
Sarracenia purpurea Pitcher Plant leaf IMG_1900Is there a lovelier leaf in the world? Yes, the “pitcher” of the carnivorous Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is actually a modified leaf. Inside a deadly mixture of rain water and enzymes can drown and dissolve the unwary insect. The plant is able to absorb important nutrients such as Phosphorous from the tiny carcasses with special cells low inside the pitcher. Good thing these guys aren’t six feet across!
Utricularia cornuta Horned Bladderwort IMG_1952One more carnivorous plant was super-abundant at this fen, Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta). The related Common Bladderwort is a predator that has dozens of tiny bladders on its underwater leaves. The hair-triggers on the bladders are set off when a tiny aquatic insect blunders by and sucked in to the bladder in a rush of water. The bladder now becomes a tiny stomach and the insect is dissolved by the plant.
IMG_1929Mystery sedge/rush.
IMG_0338If you do swing through Cable, Wisconsin, be sure to stop at their impressive Cable Natural History Museum. Among other treasures, they have an actual stuffed Passenger Pigeon! More info at http://www.cablemuseum.org
IMG_0328

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!

Floating Blind Hide & Seek: Rail-a-palooza!

Sparky all dressed up with SOMEWHERE to go!
Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands, Douglas County, Wisconsin

It was a gorgeous afternoon in Duluth yesterday…Absolutely clear, sunny, and about 70 degrees. I knew I had to get out of the office and into my floating blind ASAP (“floating hide” according to the Brits). So Bridget and I picked up the kids at daycare and grabbed a take-out Hugo’s Pizza on the way home (1/2 green olive and black olive, and 1/2 sausage and mushroom if you must know…Best pizza in Duluth…Thin and greasy!) This expedited the usually lengthy dinner circus so I could get out to the marsh before sunset.

Fortunately for me, we live only five miles from one of the best and most expansive cattail marshes for many miles around. Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands is a string of manmade wetland mitigation ponds created in 1993 on 470 acres by the Wisconsin DNR to replace wetlands lost through the construction of US53, WI35 and WI13. I stepped into my new neoprene waders that Bridget got me for father’s day…Luxurious compared to the last few pairs of leaky hand-me downs. Pulled on my camo mask and eased the PVC floating blind into the water. There’s a few things you seem to conveniently forget between your trips…
1. Swamp gas really stinks!
2. Leeches thrive in these ponds
3. Muck and pond weeds are not easy to crawl through
4. Cold water ALWAYS spills over the top of your waders just as you’re leaning over to take an award-winning shot.
5. Every thing your leg bumps into under water MUST be a feisty Snapping Turtle
6. …and Wood Ducks are notoriously spooky!

It was nice just being out…even though it was under the dome of visibility-limiting camo netting. Not a breath of wind…Not a cloud on the horizon. A pair of striped juvenile Pied-billed Grebes gave me the slip…Too bad, they are interesting looking birds, Then in quick succession a female Mallard and two Wood Ducks wanted no part of this floating green and brown blob with one giant eye. But then I spotted a pair of loafing juvenile Wood Ducks. They seemed pretty relaxed on their log, so I slowly worked my way towards them.

juvenile Wood Ducks [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/1000 ISO 200]

Sora [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/1000 ISO 200]

Time to head home…So I plucked a few leeches off me, jettisoned about 100 pounds of pond weeds that were clinging to my legs, and waded to the narrow canal leading to my take out point…Then a movement caught my eye…It was a juvenile Sora coming out of its safe zone in the cattails to feed on a tiny mudflat. The light was golden and hit the Sora like a spotlight. I underexposed by a stop and a half so to keep the background black and keep the bird from blowing out. I was less than 25 feet away!

Virginia Rail juvenile stretching [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/250 ISO 1000]

A second rail was coming out to the flats…I assumed it was a second Sora, but turned out to be a Virginia Rail…Even more unusual than the Sora. It is a bird restricted to cattail marshes and we have few this far north. This was a juvenile also…Not as colorful as the adult but still a striking bird. By now the spotlight of sun was gone and it only backlit its hind end. But this rail put on a show. Check out the brief video clip (excuse the slight motion from trying to keep the blind stable while shooting). This is the real beauty of the floating blind…You could NEVER get this close to any rail, let alone watch it feeding, bathing and stretching. Oh, and did I mention that a Muskrat swam within five feet of me?

Virginia Rail juvenile [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/200 ISO 640]

frog [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/1000 ISO 200]

p.s. I have instructions on how to make a floating blind on my DVD (and much more video): Get Close & Get the Shot: Wildlife Photography Tips & Tricks. Available for purchase (DVD or download) at www.getclosevideo.com