Tag Archives: Photography

Finding Fireflies

I couple of weeks ago I was awakened by a bright flash of lightning. After watching out the window for a few minutes I realized the storms were passed us and then I saw a light flash. Being still partially asleep I wasn’t sure I saw that little flash of light as it was 12:30am and fireflies are typically done lighting up by this time.

Fireflies following the trail home

Becoming a little more awake I continued to look outside only to confirm fireflies were indeed flashing in our back yard. A few minutes later I was out on the deck watching them flash repeatedly. More than we’ve ever had in our backyard. The following night I decided to head out to more wooded areas to see if the fireflies were putting on a show. The first location I tried really wasn’t providing as many fireflies as I wanted so I decided to try another area close by.

Twinkling in the grass

Luckily they were putting on a nice show but then another issue arose with a nearly full moon lighting up the landscape making it difficult to see any fireflies flashing. I was able to find a shaded area and get some nice pictures of the fireflies that night. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve been going to different spot when I can and photographing these interesting beetles as they displayed different flashing sequences and colors. Hopefully you can see their trails in the photos in this post. My next goal is to photograph a single beetle lighting up. We’ll see as that is a difficult task as they don’t like to stay in one place very long.

Dancing by the pond

Chasing Dragonflies

During the past several weeks I’ve been out enjoying the active wildlife and taking hundreds of photographs. Some of the most prevalent subjects have been dragonflies which are fun insects to photograph with all of their different colorations and patterns. People tend to get a little bored with dragonfly photographs as there are a lot of them.

Dragonfly clinging to a blade of grass

In the main photo above I believe that is called a widow skimmer which is also in the second to last photo from the bottom. Directly above is a four spotted skimmer. After photographing a dragonfly it can be a bit of a challenge to identify it but fun to try and fun to learn what each one is.

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These insects are amazing fliers often able to out fly birds to keep from being eaten and also catch insects for their next meal which is a great thing for those that don’t like mosquitos. Their acrobatics can entertain and amaze for hours on a nice summer afternoon.

Damselfly

Above is a blue damselfly hiding amongst the grass. While many people consider it a dragonfly it is actually a different insect in a group known as damselflies. Damselflies have their wings behind them while at rest and are not as skilled at flying as dragonflies. Also they typically are not as big.

Coming in for a landing

During my time attempting to photograph these fun insects, one of my goals was to capture them in flight which proved more difficult than expected. Most of my pictures of dragonflies in the air out of focus or have a portion of their body cut out of the photo or missed them entirely as my reaction time is slower than their takeoff time.

In the face of a dragon

In the picture above rests a 12 spotted skimmer. These didn’t seem to rest much while I was there so there is only a picture or two of them.

Waiting for the next flight

Above is another widow skimmer and below is an ebony jewelwing damselfly. These are probably my favorite damselflies because their coloration changes depending on the light they’re in and because of their black wings which flutter softly from leaf to leaf. There will probably be more dragonfly photos yet this year as I continue to have fun capturing them with a camera.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

The Ducks are Migrating

While out on a hike recently I noticed this small pond full of ducks. Watching for a few minutes I could see a few different types of beautiful ducks but I had to keep going as rain was near and I didn’t really want to get wet. A few days later I got up just before sunrise and headed to this lake to watch these ducks.

A crisp morning with some fog

As the morning went on I was amazed at the diversity of ducks in this little pond on a beautiful crisp day. While walking from my car to the pond there was frost on the grass and some fog in valleys which was burning off quickly under the warming sun. A perfect morning for enjoying the outdoors in my book.

Ringneck Ducks

After settling in next to a tree, the ducks began moving around the lake but seemed to always keep an eye on me. The morning started with me sitting in front of the tree trying to keep still waiting for them to come closer. After awhile I decided to move next to the tree instead of in front of it and ducks began to come closer but still far enough away to prevent close up pictures like the Ringneck ducks in the photo above.

Trumpeter Swan grazing the top of the water

While enjoying the great spring morning I could hear a Trumpeter Swan calling off in the distance. Eventually it flew closer and around the pond. Having watched these birds I was pretty sure it was going to make a pass somewhere on this pond if not land in the pond so I kept an eye on it and had the camera ready. The difficult part about preparing for the swan was trying to also keep on eye on the ducks and their position. Soon this Trumpeter turned and headed for the pond allowing me to shoot away. When looking over the photos this one caught my attention because of how close the wing feathers are to the water and the light reflecting off of the water onto its wings.

Redhead ducks swimming with the Ringneck ducks

As the morning continued a beaver would swim around appearing as if it was chasing these ducks which worked great for me because these ducks would forget about me for a few moments and come closer. Another type of duck called Redhead moved to the area of the pond closer to me and allowed me to watch them for a little while until the beaver left the area they wanted to be. They were interesting to watch as at time they would fly in circles around the lake and fly into a tree for a few minutes before returning to the water. Also at this time wind was increasing taking away the reflective water from earlier.

A pair of woodducks

After awhile I began watching some birds as they fluttered around me and even over the water. As I continued to do this I noticed some ducks coming closer as my attention was elsewhere like these Wood Ducks in the photo above. This was interesting to me as in other locations keeping still and as hidden as possible brought the ducks closer allowing for more detailed photos. As they seemed to get more comfortable with my presence I would slowly move the camera back in their direction and begin photographing them.

Hooded Mergansers

These male and female Hooded Mergansers eventually made there way closer to me providing a little entertainment as there was one male and seven females giving this group a little different dynamic from the traditional pair of ducks. It was fun as they stayed near me for a little while as they dove for food, chased each other around, and preened. Eventually they flew off to another area leaving me relaxed and satisfied with my time watching them.

Green Winged Teal

The first ducks to venture close to me were Green Wing Teals as they scoured the shoreline for food. These ducks have an amazing array of colors which become more iridescent as the light changes while they’re swimming around, however, the best colors show up as their wings are spread showing off a light teal and bright green spot on each wing. During the morning I did hear Loons calling in the distances along with Sandhill Cranes but they did not venture close enough to watch. It was a very surprising morning at this little pond with how much diversity of ducks and birds hanging around making it difficult to leave. Hopefully there will be another opportunity to go back.

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Ice and Snow

After seeing bare ground for several weeks we got a light dusting of snow and cold temperatures re-freezing soft ground so I wanted to get out and enjoy a winter sunrise. After watching the sunrise my goal was to photograph Eagles, which have been courting lately resulting in some spectacular flight displays. Unfortunately I did not see any of these acrobatics on this morning but I did see some interesting natural art.

Time Frozen

There were several stumps with roots protruding from the ground covered in a light coating of snow making for fun and interesting patterns. I liked how the old tree stump contrasted with the snow and frozen creek next to it. It made me think of a landscape lost in time being frozen from an earlier millennium to be recently discovered. This is partially true as the area I was in has been covered in water for many years and recently has been drained exposing it’s true character from before it was damned and flooded. Another frozen tree reminded me of a Mammoth tusk further reinforcing these pre-historic thoughts. While my morning excursion was entertaining it was back to 2017 a few hours later.

A Mammoth's Frozen Tusk?

Signs of Spring

It seems way to early but the signs of spring continue to increase with each warming day. Every day that I’m fortunate to be able to go out into nearby woods I see spring making its way more and more. By the end of February the days have gotten noticably longer and temperatures are increasing. Most of our snow is gone and the ice on lakes and rivers disappears a little each week bringing open water and a place for migrating ducks to land.

Ice is melting away

One day last week I was out hiking when little white specs caught my eye. On closer inspection it was pussy willows beginning to emerge. This is about 2 to 3 weeks earlier than last year. I keep hoping for a late season snowstorm or two but with each passing week that potential gets further and further away. I know many people are happy about the warm days and they do make every day life easier. Still a reminder of living in Minnesota in early March would be nice.

Pussywillows emerging

Tucked away out of sight there is the occasion sign of spring such as Silver Maple trees beginning to bloom without attracting much attention along with brightly colored mushrooms sprouting from a damp log and moss becoming a lush green almost like a soft, thick carpet covering up a decomposing log. Animals are also beginning their spring rituals as they come out of hibernation while others prepare nests or dens for another year of new creatures to enter the world.

Birds are migrating North

In areas where the water is no longer covered by sheets of ice I see ducks, geese, and swans bobbing up and down as they find nourishment under the surface. This is just the beginning and March has a way of teasing spring weather and then reversing with a blast of winter stealing the motivation to venture outside until it all passes sometime in April. For now it’s fun to witness each new change as the landscape emerges from a long winter nap.

Silver Maple beginning to bloom

Ice Formations of a Waterfall

While exploring Tettegouche State Park on New Year’s weekend we hiked up to High Falls and became amazed at the many different ice formations surrounding this water fall. Just looking at this amazing water fall almost completely frozen is beautiful especially set in the winter wonderland of Northern Minnesota however closer examination of the different pieces that make up this scene makes it even more incredible.

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There are different shapes, colors, and sizes of the many different icicles near the falls. It’s interesting to imagine how these were formed such as in the photo above. Water flowing over the falls has a darker color so how were these created clear at first and then coated in snow or frost? Guessing at the answer I would say these were formed during a recent rain event which was followed colder temperatures and then the spray from the water fall coated them.

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This next picture has multiple colors of ice with a chimney allowing light from the sky to illuminate this natural sculpture. The darker ice which is tinted must have been created from water flowing over the falls but it could also be from water seeping through rocks picking up tannins and minerals causing the water to be tinted and freezing with dripping water from the recent rainfall. What was really interesting to me was the chimney. How was this created? Was there ice there originally that fell creating a hole or was the natural opening wide enough that it never had water running through it?

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While exploring further there were these icicles made from water freezing making two different icicles that merged together leaving open space between them for a portion. Also I found the pieces of horizontal ice attached to the vertical icicles quite interesting.

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This next picture is showing a zoomed out version of the vertical and horizontal icicles highlighting the horizontal ice. How do icicles get created horizontally? My best guess is going back in time to imagine these being formed over hours, days, and weeks. Initially the clear icicles were made from rainfall freezing. Next mist from the running water fall was strongly blowing towards these frozen icicles freezing almost on contact. So these could be made as a result of heavy rains mixed with strong winds after the rainfall but before the falls froze creating unique ice formations.

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This is one of my favorite perspectives looking up at numerous icicles appearing as they are going to fall right on top of you. On the day of this photo these were very secure so no concerns which was confirmed as we broke off one and it did not separate from the rock above easily. In this last picture below I found several different ice formations appearing as a stairway up the falls. Even though it looks like stairs I would never climb it without proper equipment knowing this is a water fall and water is still running underneath this ice making it more unpredictable.

Ice Steps going up the waterfall

Spur of the Moment New Years Trip

As I was finishing my day of work on New Years Eve day I began to look to the rest of the holiday weekend and wondered how to best celebrate the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind was a desire to enjoy winter. For the last couple of years I’ve grabbed the camera on New Years Day and went hiking at nearby parks. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of good snow this year so began to explore different options for a winter wonderland to start another year.

The last sunset of 2016

Quickly I arrived at the idea of going to the North Shore of Minnesota. That should be far enough to find a snow covered landscape. While driving home I called the rest of the family and ran the idea past them to see if there was any interest beyond my own. Since it was very spontaneous it took a few moments to explain my ideas. Taking some time to digest this they soon determined it could be fun and phone calls were quickly made to take care of responsibilities at home for the next 24 hours as well as secure a place to stay.  Once I returned home from my last day of work for the year we all packed and gathered winter gear, loaded the car and hit the road for a short 2 hour drive to Duluth taking in the last sunset of 2016 along the way.

Enjoying hundreds of Goldeneye ducks

Our arrival in Duluth was met with slightly icy roads as they had just received some fresh snow that morning and a nighttime view of Lake Superior which remained mostly ice free to spite some very cold temperatures the week before. We quickly dropped off our stuff and headed for a favorite place to eat while in Duluth – Old Chicago. After celebrating the change of years it was off to bed. The next morning I awoke ahead of everyone else so decided I should grab the camera and hope for a beautiful sunrise over Lake Superior. Unfortunately, as you can see from the top photo, there was very little sun but there still was a great view as light increased on the morning. There was about a half dozen people out near the canal trying to do the same thing I was, photograph the first sunrise of 2017!

The upper frozen falls of Gooseberry Falls State Park

While the sun failed to make a bright, fiery appearance, several hundred Common Goldeneye ducks swam in the open waters of the Duluth Canal for anyone willing to be up early to enjoy. I’ve never seen this type of duck before so it was a nice treat to watch them for awhile before heading back to the room to gather up the rest of the family and continue north to Gooseberry Falls State Park. A short time later we pulled into the winter wonderland I was hoping for to bring in the new year. Surprisingly most of the waterfalls and river at this park were frozen over making for some beautiful natural ice sculptures covered in fluffy white snow. Not very many people take the time to explore these frozen falls so it was a nice treat to see them in an an unusual way.

The river is frozen over while Lake Superior remains open in the distance

After a couple of hours playing around in the snow and ice of Gooseberry we wanted to continue further north towards Tettegouche State Park. Fortunately this is not a long drive from where we were giving most of the afternoon at one of my favorite parks on the North Shore. Arriving a little while later we got out of the car, put on our winter gear – boots, hats, gloves, snow pants and began our excursion to the high falls of Tettegouche. Along this 1.5 mile trail we became enthralled with this winter landscape enveloping us all around. So peaceful and very few people around giving most of this quiet winter scene exclusively to us. I kept waiting to hear a wolf howl in the distance confirming our picture book arrival to Northern Minnesota but no such thing happened.

The low sun in the horizon shining through the tall trees

Plowing through the snow we arrived at our destination to find that this river and waterfall were also mostly frozen over allowing very different viewing perspectives than I’ve every witnessed before. Now we could walk almost right up to the falls and feel just how large it actually is while listening to the water run under thick walls of ice making us less certain about standing on what would be water during much of the year. A very serene moment looking over this tall wall of ice surrounded by mostly undisturbed snow.

Exploring the High Falls of Tettegouche State Park

As we examined the great ice wall all of the different formations started to jump out. Different clusters of icicles joined together creating an ice filled curtain concealing fast flowing water behind which was only visible in small iceless windows. Closer examination of the frozen water surrounding these falls showed how unique each one is. There were different colors, some were opaque while others almost crystal clear only interrupted by air bubbles frozen inside combined with various shapes. Many were frost covered while others where topped with snow. In other areas the ice formations looked as though they were creating a stairway to the top of the water falls although I would never climb it without proper equipment for fear of slipping into surrounding stone ledges.

Looking at some of the cool ice formations created from the water falls

As daylight began to soften we decided to take in the last bit of sunlight to return to the parking lot to avoid being stranded on icy staircases in the darkness. As the sun dipped lower into the horizon we could feel the cold seeping into our heavy layers of winter protection. Fortunately we had enough hand warmers to accommodate until we made it back to the warmth of the visitors center and our car for the journey back home.

Only a tiny portion of the river is still running free in Northern Minnesota

Creating an Ice Wall

On a cold winter night earlier in the week I was tormenting myself trying to decide if I should go out with the camera and attempt to capture winter images provided by a full moon. I was tired from a full day of work and really just wanted to sit back and watch a movie but images of moon reflecting off of a waterfall almost frozen kept flashing through my mind. All day long I had tried to figure out a beautiful location perfect for photographing under a full moon as this bright light can often provide amazing images especially on a snow covered landscape. It makes everything so bright and casts beautiful shadows across the snow covered ground.

A cold winter night as the full moon showers the ice and snow with abundant light

I was unable to come up with a good spot to go until I ran across a picture taken recently of a local popular waterfall. In that picture there was a lot of ice with water still flowing over the falls possibly giving me the opportunity to catch moonlight reflecting off of the ice and water with a great moonlight hue.  While still at home I kind of decided to forgo the idea of going out with the camera as I was tired and it was only 8 degrees above 0 Fahrenheit reducing any motivation. It was decision time. Do I suck it up and drag out all of my winter gear, load it into the car and drive to this waterfall or call it a night and relax in the warm comfort of my home? Agonizing over this for about 45 minutes and discussing it with my family I kept imaging the beautiful images that could be possible or it may all be for nothing if lighting isn’t what I am looking for.

Water crashing over the edge creating icicles all around it

Finally I dug a little deeper and lugged possible necessary gear into my vehicle and headed for the falls. Would I even be lucky enough to capture a moon bow? This occurs when bright moonlight hits the waterfall and reflects a rainbow. Upon arriving I quickly went to the falls to see about the situation. I was a little disappointed as there is a lot of artificial light illuminating up the entire area. This was somewhat expected as it is a popular place and people could easily get hurt if it was too dark. So now what? I decided since I was already at the waterfall I would at least get out the camera and take a few pictures before returning home. As is fairly common all it took was setting up the camera and time began to fly while I set up different compositions under the full moon light enjoying each part of it with the exception of feeling the cold creep in from time to time.

Impressive icicyle chandaliers hanging near the waterfall

As you can see from these photographs from that excursion, the ice and flowing water mixed with snow and light to create a beautiful landscape providing many options for great images. Unfortunately the moonlight was unable to penetrate through nearby artificial lighting but that didn’t change the fact there were many ice formations with great light to take advantage of. I may have to spend more time at this waterfall this winter looking for more intriguing pictures.

Water continues to flow under a wall of ice

Minnesota’s Forest Coral

I wanted to photograph the frosty plants on a foggy November morning. By the time I got all of my gear and began hiking the temperature warmed enough to melt much of the frost and with it, my goals for this day. Kicking myself for not moving earlier I begrudgingly continued on my desired hiking route just to enjoy the day and see if there was anything interesting along the way.

Great color combinations and textures of some mushrooms

My hope was to hike to a more secluded lake and photograph migrating ducks if nothing else caught my attention before hand. As I moved along the trail I happened to see this mushroom covered log. For some reason I’m drawn to mushrooms on a log. All of these rounded little plates sticking out from a disintegrating portion of wood. Yet through a number of attempts there haven’t been any interesting photos from any of my attempts. Although I’ve not had some of the equipment I brought this time either since my original plan was to photograph frosty crystals as intimately as I could. Maybe that same idea would bring out what attracts me to these mushrooms.

The amazing texture and color of lichens contrast nicely against orange mushrooms

As I neared the log I was amazed at the incredible display being put on by these mushrooms which happed to also be surrounded by lichens putting on their own colorful display on this cool, wet late fall day. The seemingly random textures of the lichens made them very intriguing along with their beautiful variations of colors, from bright greens to light blues made them stand out among the multicolored mushrooms. When I returned home later and looked on the computer they looked just like a coral reef to me.

Stepping along some mushrooms full of great texture

Throw in a little dark green moss and it became a world all it’s own. What else lives among all these vibrant formations? Eating mushrooms or lichens, seeking shelter in the many crevices? A dew covered web confirmed this little world most of us never even know of. I loved all of the fuzzy rings stacked on top of one another creating each mushroom for the spider to climb searching for its’ next meal before succumbing to winter.

Dew covered web connecting mushrooms

As I continued to explore around the fallen branches I came across some vibrant orange mushrooms which contrasted beautifully with the dark lichen covered bark. Patterns within these mushrooms amazed me along with their shapes and waves. Add to that the green, yellow, and blue lichens and this scene is just exploding with color.

An orange mushroom showing bright in late November

Eventually the daylight was getting dimmer making it more challenging to photograph these mushroom filled branches so I packed up and headed back for the car. On my return hike rain began to fall so it was a good time to leave and pack away the camera. A great substitute for missing most of the frost covered landscape. In the picture below you can see the fallen tree that first caught my attention. Very easy to continue on walking as this is a pretty common scene in a forest. Glad I stopped to examine it closer.

Mushrooms covering an old downed tree