Category Archives: wildlife

Duck Migration is Here

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been in pursuit of ducks beginning to move south stopping by local lakes to rest and feed before moving on. In this particular area there have been flocks of hundreds of ducks making it very enticing to set up the camera and wait for them to move closer.

Widgeon coming in for a landing

It’s been fun to photograph them and then try and identify what type of duck it is afterwards. This particular flock of ducks has included Widgeons, Gadwall, Mallards, Wood ducks, and one immature pintail. They sure are pretty to watch with the different colors and patterns as well as listen to. Each with a unique sound identifying the species further.

Widgeon swimming along

While most of the ducks on this particular lake seem to be widgeons there are some gadwalls mixed into the flock. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a different duck or if it was just an immature widgeon still coloring up. Looking further I noticed the bill on the gadwalls is darker than with widgeons. Also the white spot on the back of the duck is different and the head has slightly different colorations confirming a different species later identified as gadwalls. Ohh and they make a different sound which helped figure this out.

Gadwall floating by

Included in all these ducks are, of course, mallards which tend to be very plentiful on most bodies of water in Minnesota and elsewhere. One of the nice things of having mallards around is other ducks see them and figure it’s a safe place to land with food available so join them. The mallard below was shaking off water after spending time under the surface looking for food.

Mallard stretching out of the water

One of the unique ducks in this particular flock is an immature pintail. I wasn’t completely sure of this immediately because the coloration is different from the others but not as well defined as the photos I was comparing it too. A couple of things that helped I.D. it was when it tipped into the water in search of food the tail was more of a point and more pronounced than the widgeons and gadwalls but still lacked the characteristic long pin tail giving these there name. Also the colors on it’s head, while not completely developed, still matched well with the pictures I was comparing it to leading me to figure out this is a young pintail. This duck has continued to stay with this flock for the past couple of weeks with no other pintails in sight.

A young Northern Pintail

I’ve definitely been enjoying photographing each of these different species and hopefully will be able to catch a few more before these lakes freeze over.

Walking With a Bison

After a day filled with incredible views and geological wonders we were driving back towards our hotel for some much needed rest. Along the way we encountered several vehicles pulled over indicating an opportunity to see some of Yellowstone’s amazing wildlife so we found a spot in a nearby pull off and parked the car. After a short hike up the road we saw people watching a lone bison just lazily grazing nearby. Continuing to scan the landscape for bears or wolves I glanced towards this bison from time to time just watching and snapping a few pictures.

Bison after scratching in the dirt

While watching this large animal for a couple of minutes I began to get lost behind my camera taking different pictures trying different compositions. It was getting better and better because I could get increasingly closer shots isolating this bison and highlighting its details until I briefly looked up from the camera only to realize this large, powerful animal was not within a few feet of me. The only thing between me and this bison was a low, wooden railing which would do nothing if it decided to charge me which I witnessed earlier in the day. That same morning I watched one bison charge after anther bison at full speed displaying just how fast and powerful they really are no matter how they may appear most other times.

Face to face with an Amercian Bison

Quickly I backed away seeking the cars behind me as a potential buffer between me and this bison. Fortunately it was more interesting in eating and continued walking away from my area. After a little more wildlife viewing we decided we were ready to get back in our car and continue towards the hotel only there was a little problem. This lone, powerful bison was walking along the roadside towards our car preventing us from leaving. Well, we might as well as relax for awhile until it passes our vehicle allowing us to drive away. Slowly we followed at a safe distance just watching as it walked among the many cars now stopped watching it. Do you think there is some amusement to the bison causing such an event? At one point it stopped and looked at our empty car. “Do you think it will find something irritating with the car and ram it?” I asked. How do you explain that to the insurance company? Glad we weren’t in the car at that point. Can you imagine how that would be? Finally it continued on down the road to meet up with a nearby heard allowing us to make it to the car.

Bison checking out our car

Being one of the first cars into a pull off definitely has its advantages as you don’t have to worry about finding a place to park as within a few minutes the roadway fills with vehicles hoping to catch a glimpse and maybe a photo of nearby wildlife. Also you tend to have a front row seat for watching wildlife. Unfortunately if you decide it’s time to leave you may have to wait while the traffic jam caused by whatever wildlife you are watching has caused clears enough for you to get back onto the road and on your way to the next destination.

Wildlife causing a traffic jam

Once traffic began moving again we prepared to pull out just when that nearby bison heard arrived across the street from us once again stopping traffic. These are definitely not fast moving animals much of the time. This heard would walk a short distance, stop and scratch on the dirt or nearby trees, walk a few steps more, eat nearby leaves, and continue a little further. While it seemed like forever it was really only about 15 minutes before we were once again on the road heading to our hotel for the night. How frustrating must it be for those stuck in this traffic jam far enough down the road and not be able to see what was causing it? At least we got to enjoy it even though the bison were a little close for comfort at times.

_DSC2138

A Warm Yellowstone Greeting

On our first trip into Yellowstone National Park, we were less than five miles from the North Entrance when the first encounter with wildlife began. I call these our park greeters welcoming us to Yellowstone. For me it is a truly great way to start a national park adventure and a good sign of what is to come. While driving a short distance I happened to glance to my left and caught a glimpse of a fawn through trees and brush. Fortunately this occurred near a pull off designed to allow people to stop along side the road to take in the sights of that area so I quickly decided to turn in and see if I could spot that fawn again.

Elk fawn drinking from the Gardner River

Within a minute or two the Elk fawn and its mother appeared coming closer to us. And then there was another fawn in sight. Within a few minutes five Elk fawns and their mothers were grazing within sight and coming closer. By this time the pull off was full of other people all trying to photograph these animals as is typical in Yellowstone. Fortunately this occurred just after 6pm and many people had already left the park allowing for better traffic flow. Not that I really noticed the traffic because these Elk and their fawns were so much fun to watch.

Trying to cross the raging river

Eventually the mothers all decided they wanted to cross the Gardner River coming closer towards all of us set up to capture this event. They slowly coaxed the fawns to wade through this rushing water towards greener pastures. Because of larger amounts of snow this past winter, the river was flowing faster than normal from more melting snow making it increasingly difficult to ford.

Elk fawn struggling in the rushing Gardner River

After a few attempts the fawns decided this was a bad idea with conditions too dangerous for them to safely make it across. They found a spot on the river bank and stood their ground. I wonder if having an audience for this helped deter them from trying to make it through this swiftly moving water? As I looked over this pull off full of cars carrying many people with large cameras all looking for a photograph of these Elk fawns crossing a river for the first time, I could see some disappointment as the realizations they were not going to cross the river. Understandable as how often do you get on opportunity to witness such an event right in front of you?

Not this time

The next twenty minutes or so these fawns would call over to their mothers with these mothers responding attempting to convince the other to get on the other side of the river. After several attempts the mothers all crossed back over the Gardner River to be reunited with their fawns. Several days later we drove by these same Elk and saw that the fawns had successfully crossed the swift river in a different location.

Reunited

Getting Caught in a Small Storm While Taking Pictures

A year ago I was able to wonder around in a nearby forest taking in wildlife. You can read about it here if you would like. There have not been as many opportunities to get out with my camera this spring but recently I did get to spend some time taking in the ever greening forest in search on new life. On this particular outing my goal was to see if a mother coyote had taken up residence in a familiar spot to raise her little ones again and to find out if Eagles had once again laid eggs in their nest from last year.

Up in the tree

While slowly making my way in the woods attempting to make as little noise as possible I heard a low growling sound coming from nearby. Scanning the area I saw a head hanging out of a hole in the tree. Watching for a minute or two I noticed this raccoon ever so gently resting its head in this hole looking exhausted from the day.

A passing deer in the dark forest

Enjoying this raccoon for a short time I heard a noise in leaves up the hill from me but couldn’t see what was making the noise. Shortly after a little deer made its way near me but hadn’t noticed me yet. Fortunately I was standing on a log right next to another tree so there was no shuffling of leaves to slowly turn to watch it. As I began to rotate, the deer spotted my movement causing us both to stop immediately. It was so dark in the woods that taking pictures of moving animals was a challenge and I was in a poor position to steady my camera so all I could manage was a few blurry shots and it was gone. This was ok because I wanted to focus more on the raccoon.

A tired mother raccoon

Once the deer had disappeared I hopped onto another fallen tree nearby trying to keep the noise down as I moved closer to this hollow tree being used for a home. Once on this tree I quietly removed my backpack and took out the tripod in order to steady my camera in hopes of getting sharper photos. While doing this out pops a bunch of tiny heads trying to figure out what I was doing. Now I understand why this larger raccoon appears to be so tired as to be almost lifeless. It was a mother with several little ones to tend to.

_DSC9494

Almost settled in with my backpack and tripod, there was another rustling in the leaves near where the first noise came from but this time it sounded slightly different. I quickly frozen, standing on this log trying to look for movement and then I heard a sound – a turkey. Wow I’ve never had turkeys walk up to me. I always seem to come up on them and scare them away before getting a decent picture. Now what do I do? In order for me to get to cover so they wouldn’t recognize me I would have to move significantly. I decided to concentrate on these baby raccoons but tried to remain steady as to not disrupt the turkeys too much. They did eventually move on away from me so I could once again focus on these little critters right in front of me.

The whole raccoon family

Now I was able to get the camera set up on the tripod and sit comfortably on the log I was just standing on and shoot away as this family would pop in and out of this larger hole in the tree. Enjoying my time watching these little fury creatures I heard another noise off in the distance. It sounded like thunder! I didn’t think there was really any storms in the area so I dismissed it as possibly an airplane overhead or something. Than I heard it again with a much longer rumble. That had to be thunder so I pulled out my phone all while being watched and check the radar. Now what should I do? I can pack up and try and get out of hear or wait it out since it appeared I was on the edge and may only get a little rain. Waiting it out seemed like the better idea as I could see sun near the horizon so this couldn’t last very long. Back to taking pictures of the raccoons.

Approaching storm

While sitting there defying the weather, the thunder got closer and more numerous causing me to question my decisions to stay. Finally when it was almost overhead I decided it was time to pack up and leave. It must have been the right decision as the raccoons had all retreated back into their tree as well. Getting out to the edge of the woods I could see the storm which appeared to have just passed overhead. Now the wind was picking up at my back so the approaching cold front must have just came through. Do I go back to the raccoons or continue on to the eagles nest or keep going towards the car? My answer came in the form what sounded like a strong wind gust. But it wasn’t wind. I new my time was up and my choice now was to seek shelter among a clump of large maple trees just as heavy rains began pounding down. After a short downpour I decided to continue to the car and enjoyed watching the sun set behind this small spring storm. Definitely worth getting wet for.

A beautiful sunset as the storm passes

Egrets

This summer has provided some great opportunities to observe egrets and take a few pictures along the way. They are challenging to photograph in the blaring sun due to their pure white feathers but I still enjoyed the experience.

Got one!

For most of the time they were looking for food which brought entertainment as they strolled through the shallow water. It was interesting to listen to their calls and see their actions towards other egrets, heron, and ducks. Unfortunately I was unable to get a good picture of most of these interactions. They really didn’t seem to care about the ducks but herons and other egrets seemed to bring more aggression.

Looking for lunch

When not looking for food they would find a stump or branch to rest in and preen for several minutes. They didn’t seem to stay in one place very long requiring me to stay on top of the camera settings if I wanted decent shots along the way.

Taking in the sun

On occasion there would be multiple egrets together but that usually ended in squawking with one or more birds leaving that spot in search of a bit more solitude. The fishing must have been pretty good to bring several together. Did they realize there were multiple birds there or were they distracted by the search for food and then realized they weren’t alone?

Too many birds in one spot

As they day neared the end, egrets continued to hunt for every bit of food they could find before nightfall. Slowly stalking whatever moves under the surface of the calm, warm water. I enjoyed being able to watch as they went about their prowl and snap a few pictures here and there.

Looking for an evening snack

 

Great Blue Herons

Ever since taking the photo below of a relatively close up of a Great Blue Heron I’ve wanted to find an opportunity to do so again once I upgraded cameras to the Sony mirrorless NEX-F3.

Great Blue Heron on Isle Royale

Unfortunately every time I seemed to be getting close for a nice picture of a heron it would get spooked and fly away all the while squawking at me eliminating any hope of capturing an image. This summer I found a couple of opportunities for photographs. While learning how to become a part of the landscape for hunting purposes, these skills were not adequate for pictures of this somewhat elusive bird. Keep in mind I have limited distance with my zoom lenses as the bigger ones require a fair amount of money which I am unwilling to spend as this is just a hobby. However I found a larger lens for relatively low expense by renting it for a couple of days at a time. The image below was taken with a 150-600mm telephoto lens which brings wildlife considerable closer than my little 210mm zoom lens.

Moving through the water

With that in mind, the photograph below was taken using my little 210mm lens. One of the skills I’m working on is hiding amongst my surroundings in order to achieve better results and it seems to be working. Of course finding the right location helps as well. The heron below was taken at a local lake frequented by such birds increasing my chances of getting closer to one. Here it is captured just as it spotted something moving in the water. Moments later it successfully caught something to eat.

What was that?

On the same lake but another location I caught this one sharing the area with a trumpeter swan and some ducks. I would like to have been closer but I still enjoy being able to photograph a heron before if flies away.

Sharing the lake with a swan and ducks

This next group of pictures were taken from a dock where the heron was obviously use to people being around making the potential for pictures easier. The next four photos are a sequence of a heron diving for food. In the photo below it saw something to strike at.

Spotted something

In the next picture the heron is leaping into the water attacking a potential meal where it was almost complete submerged for a time.

Diving in for food

Below is of the heron shaking water from its feathers after being soaked by the water. I couldn’t tell if it actually caught what it was after making its efforts worthwhile.

Drying off

Finally the heron is back standing on the log it began on to begin the search for food all over again.

Searching for food

My last image shows a heron with wings fully expanded as it takes off right in front of me in the evening sun. This particular heron flew away and returned to this same area multiple times over a few hours given the opportunity to practice photographing herons and learning how they act in this situation. I could identify this heron because of the feather or two missing from its left wing. For much of the time I was about 25 feet away from it just to give you an idea how close they have to be for a 210mm zoom lens to fill a frame with a heron. A very enjoyable time at the lake to spite the mosquitoes trying to distract me.

Flying Heron