Posts tagged ‘www.ThePhotoNaturalist.com’

2019 Favorite Landscapes (Top Ten…14 really)

Back in the slide film days I used to work much harder at getting good landscape images. We worked much slower in the film days. And I really put thought into good composition. But with the digital age, I’ve gotten a bit lazy. Too easy to just snap some quick photos with my iPhone and call it a landscape. But having access to a drone has made me think more about aerial landscapes and I’ve included four of those images here…Roughly 30 percent of my favorite landscape images this year were with the drone.

I do enjoy very wide images and so have also been using my 10mm Rokinon lens on the Sony A6500 body.

Here’s my faves from 2019.

(Duluth, Minnesota)
Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 2 seconds at f22; ISO 100; tripod]

Some of you may know where this little gem is located. The cedar tree that I used to include in my compositions here, is now tipped over. A long exposure made for a colorful pattern of swirling foam and leaves. Did I put that maple leaf on the rock? Only I know!

Meandering (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

I absolutely love the new perspectives the we can get with drone images. But I am still learning on how to be a good drone pilot (I have crashed my DJI Phantom 4 a few times).

Yucca Sky (New Mexico)
Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/4000 second at f2; ISO 200; hand-held]

I was passing through southwest New Mexico on my way to southeast Arizona for a birding trip when I saw this scene. I love the drama of Yuccas…and the clouds helped make this image. For this look I desaturated this image, and increased the “clarity” slider, in Lightroom.

Yellowstone Lake (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM lens at 70mm; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 800; hand-held]

Yes, a very simple “tree silhouette” landscape, but I like the vertical trunks contrasting with the horizontal bands of color in the sky. This is well past sunset.

Ice-out (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

You could only get a shot like this with a drone (or a really tall ladder!). I like the different shades of blue and yellow as the lake begins to thaw in spring.

Starry Pines (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

What do you do after you get back to your campground in Yellowstone? Eat dinner and take star photos! A headlamp briefly turned on illuminated my face.

Sunrise Fog (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

I’d seen photos like this taken from a plane in the “pre-drone” era. Knowing that I could never afford to rent a plane, I gave up on making an image like this. But a drone now allows some very unique shots at a fraction of the cost.

Firehole Spring Sunset (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/30 second at f22; ISO 320; hand-held]

Ryan and I have photographed this thermal feature in Yellowstone before, but on this evening it had a completely different feel due to the thick steam arising from the pool. We stood on the top rung of the barrier fence and held our cameras high to get a more pleasing angle on the scene.

Lake Superior ice (Lake County, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Aerial view of Lake Superior ice during break up. I converted to black and white for a more graphic image.

Alpen glow (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Follow the Yellow Tar Road (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 18-55 mm lens at 18mm: 1/320 second at f16; hand-held]

I love the splash of color on this atypical landscape photo. What else can you do on an extremely gloomy day? Ryan got even lower to the road and also made a very cool image.

(Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Lamar Valley (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM lens at 70mm; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 125; tripod]

I’m not sure why Ryan and I had never noticed this big ol’ Cottonwood in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley before…Maybe because we were always looking for wildlife. But on this year’s trip Ryan saw it and named it the Zen Tree. It has wonderfully gracefully arced limbs and trunk, and it is very photogenic.

(near Tucson, Arizona)
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/60 second at f22; ISO 320; -1.33 ev; hand-held]

I actually had to stick my hand and camera into a bramble of spiny Cholla cactus stems to get this wide angle view of the Sonoran desert landscape near Tucson. I love how everything is framed by the Cholla (except the foreground Saguaro could be placed a bit better). Overall a unique view of a very unique habitat.

Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos of 2019 (Top Ten)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zebra (San Diego Zoo, California) August 2019

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

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

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

Bison (Badlands National Park, South Dakota) October 2019

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

Snow Goose blur (western Minnesota) April 2019

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

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

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

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

NEXT UP…Top Ten Landscape photos of 2019

My Top Ten Bird Photos 2019

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

Gambel’s Quail (near Portal, Arizona)

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

Western Grebe (Lake Osakis, Minnesota)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more Arizona hummingbird photos here

House Finch on Ocatillo (southeast Arizona)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotted Owl (Hunter Canyon, Arizona)

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

See more Spotted Owl photos here

Gambel’s Quail family (Portal, Arizona)

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

Elegant Trogon (near Portal, Arizona)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Birds-in-the-Landscape Photos 2019

More and more I like photos that show the bird and its habitat. One of my favorite artists, Robert Bateman, often placed the birds quite tiny in the surrounding landscape…so tiny sometimes that you really had to search!

These photos tell more of a story than close up bird portraits, they often have to be viewed in a larger format to fully appreciate them. So go ahead and click on each image to see them larger.

Snowy Owl on haybale in the Sax-Zim Bog (St. Louis County, Minnesota)

This very white mature male Snowy Owl hung around the Sax-Zim Bog all winter, and he spent most of his time in just two fields. This field had hay bales which made a convenient perch in which to scan and listen for voles.

Red-tailed Hawk (Carlton County, Minnesota)

I do love old fencelines with weathered and lichen-covered posts, and I scan for subjects perched on them. Fortunately this day I ran across a hunting Red-tailed Hawk that actually allowed me time to get my camera out the car window and snap a few shots. I think the falling snow adds a lot to this image, as does the red tail feathers which add a spot of color.

Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus WMA, Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 100mm; 1/800 second at f4; +0.33ev; ISO 250; tripod]

Dawn in the aspen parkland of northwest Minnesota and a Greater Prairie Chicken booms on its lek. This spring courtship display is the essence of prairies on the Great Plains. About 18 other prairie chickens are just out of frame. I spent about 5 hours in a blind watching and filming their antics. No better way to spend a spring morning!

See the expanded blog post with many photos here

See the link to the Shooting with Sparky Greater Prairie Chickens video here

Mountain Bluebirds in snowstorm (Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 400; tripod]

Half way through our epic journey home from Yellowstone in a massive stalled out blizzard, Ryan and I stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a night. The early October storm caught many birds off guard and this flock of Mountain Bluebirds were feeding on the only snow-free spot available, the recently plowed road shoulder. But they would perch on this nearby barbed wire fence.

Greater White-fronted Geese in April (Western Minnesota)

I had never seen anything like the congregation of geese in western Minnesota this past April.  It was like stepping back in to an old-timer’s memory when they reminisce about “the skies filled with flock after flock of geese.” And there were literally flock after flock of geese filling the skies. (Where have I heard that before?). These Greater White-fronted Geese filled the frozen marsh.

Northern Saw-whet Owl in nest cavity (Superior National Forest, St. Louis County, Minnesota)

Abandoned Pileated Woodpecker cavities provide homes for many critters in the North Woods including Flying Squirrels, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Pine Marten, and owls such as this Northern Saw-whet Owl. I have scratched on 100s of trees with Pileated cavities over the years, but never found a Saw-whet, but this spring I got lucky. I wish I could have checked on the cavity more times, but other commitments got in the way. I hope she raised a brood of little Saw-whets.

Early-returning Trumpeter Swans on Stone Lake (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)

A classic northern Minnesota scene that we would not have seen 30 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of the Minnesota DNR, Carrol Henderson and many others, we now have a “bumper crop” of Trumpeter Swans each spring. They arrive at first ice-out to claim the best nesting territories.

Snow Geese on the Minnesota prairie in April (Western Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 113mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Like a Les Kouba painting from the 1970s, this scene includes a flock of geese and a weathered windmill in the farm country of western Minnesota.

Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Superior (Two Harbors, Minnesota)

I guess the icy landscape of Minnesota’s North Shore dominates the birds in this photo. But it is how you often see Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Superior; bobbing and diving in the icy waters of Lake Superior.

American Robin, Eastern Bluebird and Mountain Bluebirds (Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 second at f5.6; ISO 1000; tripod]

Three species of thrushes wait out an early October snowstorm in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota: Eastern Bluebird, American Robain and Mountain Bluebirds.

Gambel’s Quail (Portal, Arizona)

A week in southeastern Arizona allowed me to finally thaw out from the long winter. And I got to see many desert and mountain specialty birds that I hadn’t seen in 20-plus years. This Gambel’s Quail is singing from about the best perch available in the Chihuahuan Desert…a huge stalk of a Yucca.

Snow Geese (Western Minnesota)
Trumpeter Swans (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[DJI Phantom 4 Pro]

Winter was finally loosening its grip in mid April in northern Minnesota. Lakes were starting to open up and any patch of blue was occupied by early-returning Trumpeter Swans in order to claim the best nesting territories. A drone allowed me to get this shot. The swans never even looked up at the strange “whirring bird” over their heads.

The Snow cometh —Yellowstone Day 4

October 9, 2019

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We awake to a couple inches of snow at our Madison Campground…but despite having to cook breakfast in the cold, dark, wet conditions, we are pumped! Snow in the landscape always makes for moody wildlife shots, and we were headed to a spot where two bull Moose had been spotted the day before.

But before we even made it to Norris, we were turned around by a ranger who said the mountain passes were closed with 18 inches of snow already. We turned around and headed for the geyser basins south of Madison. And now it was snowing HARD. After a look-see we saw nothing and then were turned around by another ranger. It was clear that we weren’t going anywhere today. A female ranger greeted us back near Madison Campground and said the park was closing and ALL of Yellowstone’s roads would be shut down for at least a day and a half.

Chinese tourist bus slides off the road (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Ryan and the Madison River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Our choices were to stay at our campsite for 36 hours (not!) and freeze (temps were predicted to be below zero F. that night) OR shoot on our way out the West Yellowstone park entrance. We decided to pack up our tents and head towards Teddy Roosevelt. With only two-full days of shooting in Yellowstone, it was our shortest trip to the park ever.

Elk along the Madison River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

The snow continued to pile up as we spotted this herd of cow elk along the Madison River.

Ryan (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Firehole River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

A “car window” shot at 40 mph. No self-respecting photographer would post this shot, but I kind of like it in black and white. It reminds me of my early darkroom print days. It has a vintage feel to it.

Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison and Ryan (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

We were finally told by the rangers to just keep moving, so we had no choice but to exit the park and head for Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Little did we know that the real adventure of this year’s trip would be just getting home! But more about that in the next post.

A Grizzly Welcome -Yellowstone Day 1

***Just a note to my subscribers that I have now ponied up for the “Premium” plan so you won’t have to wade through those annoying ads placed into my posts.

October 6-7, 2019

Since we were coming from the South Dakota Badlands, Ryan Marshik and I headed towards the Yellowstone East Entrance. The country between Cody, Wyoming and the park is stellar, and as we got closer, we started thinking, “Hey, we might even have some shooting light by the time we get into Yellowstone!”

But even before we got to the park, we had our first bear sighting. It was a Grizzly crossing the Northfork Shoshone River. We managed a few snaps but it was soon into the brush…but on our side of the river. So we decided to pull over in a locked entrance to a campground. And we didn’t have to wait long! The Grizzly was working its way towards us…and completely ignoring the two Minnesota guys laying on the ground pointing big barrel-shaped things toward it. Within a minute the bear was too close for comfort and we retreated to the vehicle.

But then a large patch of Wild Rose hips caught her attention. And she began delicately plucking the ripe fruit only 20 yards from us. It was dusk and we kept cranking our ISO up. I ended up at my max for my old Canon 7D…ISO 6400. Some noise in the photos, but I’d MUCH rather have a sharp and grainy/noisy photos of a Grizzly than a blurry noise-free shot!

These images took quite a bit of working in Lightroom to get to the images below.

Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear at dusk near Northfork Shoshone River
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/160 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eat dusk near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
Black and white image
Grizzly Bear eat dusk near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; 1/160 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/200 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]

Eventually she sauntered within 2 feet of our SUV. A really neat encounter. Made better by the fact that we didn’t have to share it with the typical Yellowstone “shooting gallery.”

Red-tailed Hawk silhouette in old burn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Due to our wonderful “bear delay,” we didn’t get inside the park until sunset. But Ryan spotted this perched Red-tailed Hawk which made for a neat silhouette.

Burned pines and Yellowstone Lake sunset; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Red-tailed Hawk silhouette in old burn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 800; hand-held]
Ryan shooting the sunset and burned pines scene

We camped in the Madison Campground, and headed out in the early morning, excited to see the Hayden Valley again. The last seven years had been spring trips, and almost every time the road through the valley had still not been opened up by the time we arrived.

And we found this cooperative Raven. In all likelihood, it is probably the same begging Common Raven that I photographed here years ago. It is such a treat to be able to get close to these birds since in Minnesota they are so spooky that you can’t even touch the brake pedal and they are gone.

Video of the Raven’s backlit breath while calling was my goal, but I also tried some stills. Like Ryan said, it would have been better if the slight breeze hadn’t been blowing their breath behind them. Interestingly, the biggest puff of breath didn’t come until their beak was already half closed again…and not when it was fully open.

Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/320 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]

I intentionally darkened this image, and increased contrast, in Lightroom to make it a more dramatic photo.

Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/400 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]
Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Note nictating membrane over eye (in middle of “blinking”)
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/400 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]
Can you find the Grizzly?

We were photographing the Coyote below when Ryan spotted this distant Grizzly. We knew we were somewhere near a carcass by the small Raven congregation and 3 Coyotes milling around. We had walked out into this meadow near Canyon to check it out. We later learned that it was a carcass that had been picked over, and this Grizz was probably checking on it…Just in case.

Grizzly in morning light near Canyon; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Note the distinctive shoulder hump of the Grizzly (Black Bears lack this). Its shape is highlighted by rim light of the rising sun.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 500; tripod]
Coyote licking his chops near old carcass; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f6.3; ISO 100; -0.66ev; tripod]
Coyote leaping for voles in frosty meadow near Canyon; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 100; -0.66ev; tripod]
Ryan shooting our Raven friend in Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake (colder than it looks!), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake (colder than it looks!), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sparky on Mount Washburn pass, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Evening stars at our campsite in Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm lens; 20 seconds at f18; ISO 320; tripod (and flashlight to illuminate my face)

Day 2-3 in Yellowstone coming soon

Yellow Rail—Midnight Madness in the McGregor Marsh (VIDEO calling, preening, sleeping)

YELLOW RAIL in McGregor Marsh, Aitkin County, Minnesota. June 13, 2019

Okay, so I was home and in my own bed by midnight, but “10:44 pm in the McGregor Marsh” isn’t quite as catchy as the title, “Midnight Madness.”

It has been about 30 years since I’ve actually SEEN a Yellow Rail (one of Kim Eckert’s multi-birder late-night Yellow Rail “round up” in the 80s). 

Yellow Rails are one of the most secretive birds in North America, and only nest in localized sedge marshes in MN, ND, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan (and a few other isolated spots). Seven were calling last night (June 13). The rails are only the size of a softball, and they walk around under the cattails…usually. A tape of another male, or clicking two rocks together to imitate their call can elicit a vocal response. But they are used to semi-close neighbors so you have to be in the heart of their territory for them to come out from beneath the sedges/cattails.

Access to the McGregor Marsh is difficult, but an old railroad grade (now an ATV trail) runs through it off MN65. It is a vast sedge marsh, which is the vegetation Yellow Rails prefer.
First glimpses of the elusive YELLOW RAIL. They are only the size of a softball and usually scurry around like mice UNDER the downed layer of sedges and old cattails.

Thanks to my friend Kim Risen who suggested a place in the Marsh to start listening. He has heard and seen many more in the area this spring/summer. Good year for Yellow Rails! They are dependent on proper water levels.

I waded into the marsh at sunset (about 9:15pm) wearing knee-high rubber boots with rain bibs over the top. One bird was calling just off the trail but quit. The McGregor Marsh is a floating mat of sedges and cattails in ankle- to calf-deep water. Good thing I’d laced myself with Deep Woods Off (25%DEET) since the mosquitos were thick.
This rail was calling on and off (sometimes as close as 6 feet away!) but it took 1.5 hours to actually see him in the sedge marsh (in the full company of mosquito hordes, and stumbling around in waders). A powerful flashlight aided in the search. I would sit in the marsh, click my rocks and wait. If he called, I’d sweep the area briefly with my flashlight. 
It was very dark by 10:30 pm when I started photographing him. This Yellow Rail was so calm that he called, preened, and even tucked his head into his back feathers and slept all within 15 feet of me. I only stayed with him for about 15 minutes.

SEE VIDEO OF YELLOW RAIL CALLING, PREENING, SLEEPING HERE

But it took me 15 minutes more to find my backpack (including my car keys!), which I had left laying in the marsh when I started tracking this Yellow Rail. Home by midnight!

Sony A6500 and Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f5.6 at 1/60; ISO 1600; pop-up flash and flashlight for illumination.

Yellow Rail male in northern Minnesota’s McGregor Marsh; June 13, 2019; 10:15-10:45pm
This little guy got so comfortable with me only 10 feet away that he actually would preen and even tuck his head in his back feathers and fall asleep!