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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are several reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park: The natural beauty of the landscape, geyser watching such as Old Faithful, Looking at colorful hot springs, and looking for wildlife. Most desired to see here are bears and wolves but they certainly require effort to find. Geysers and hot springs were something I was looking forward to seeing but the opportunity to see a bear and/or wolf was what I was most hoping to see. Everywhere else I’ve hoped to see a bear ended unsuccessfully and this was my last chance during our Monopoly travels.
On our third day in Yellowstone I woke up before sunrise and snuck out of our hotel in search of early morning wildlife. My plan was to enter from the Roosevelt entrance and drive to Lamar valley in hopes a wolf pack was on the move. On the way, as the sun was rising, I stopped to photograph the foggy valley as the sun rose above the horizon. Ready to continue to my destination I looked again and there in the shadows was a blacktail deer with her two fawns. What a great way to begin this morning! After watching for a few moments I moved on to get to the popular Lamar Valley
As I drove back and forth through the valley I only saw hundreds of Buffalo roaming and grazing along with the occasional Pronghorn Antelope. Some people next to me had spotted a grizzly bear but I could not see it as it was several miles away and they were using a spotting scope. A little disappointed after a couple of hours, I looked around and noticed that most of the people also in search of wolves had left so decided it was time to head back to the hotel and re-join the rest of the family. A short drive away I ran into a major road block with people all looking at a hillside miles away. Deciding to stop I found a place to park, got out, and began listening to others talk. Apparently wolves had been spotted in this area but where out of sight at the moment. After awhile of looking through the binoculars I did see one of the wolves but it was so far away it was difficult to positively identify for me. Others nearby did confirm it was a wolf though so I was lucky enough to see that.
Fortunately this was not the end of my luck in search of these great predators. On another day, driving back to our hotel from watching Old Faithful there was another encounter. We had an hour and half drive ahead and I was exhausted from the day so my wife was driving while I rested in the passenger seat. Night was falling fast so there wasn’t much to look at. About 30 minutes into our drive something was right there in the road in front of our car. Karen slammed on the brakes almost hitting a wolf staring briefly at us before moving on to the should near our car where it stopped to watch us before becoming a little uncomfortable with us still stopped. Still in disbelief we gazed at this wolf wondering if there were others nearby when another moved slighter higher up from the road. All we could really see was it’s outline and eyes as this was a black wolf blending in extremely well with the surroundings. All of us now on fully awake we continued on in complete amazement that we were that close to wild wolves which so many desire to see but don’t. Because it was so dark and all of this did happen relatively quickly I was unable to get the camera and snap a photograph. Only memories exist of this experience but one I’m sure we won’t forget.
Returning to my morning drive back towards the hotel, I drove around a corner after seeing the far off wolf and there was another traffic jam. Once again I decided to quickly find an available parking spot and see what was causing this temporary ruckus. Quickly I spotted a bear with its cub grazing near a creek below. Finally success! after all of these years hoping to see one here was a bear and cub. I watched as long as these bears remained in sight before returning again to my car. Just before getting in I heard someone say another bear was in a field nearby. After a few seconds I spotted that one and watched as long as I could photographing when ever the opportunity arose. Imagine that? Two bears! What luck. Ok now it really was time to get back with the family as the morning was nearing the end.
Continuing on there was yet another traffic jam although smaller than the previous two so I stopped to see what was there. Some of the other bystanders said it was a lone wolf. Curious I got out my camera and began scanning the area and found what they were pointing to. Unfortunately I had to inform them this was a coyote and not a wolf. They were somewhat disappointed but still enjoyed watching as it meandered among the sage brush. It was fun to see but I really needed to get back so off I went without further traffic jams. Add to this the elk from an earlier visit and plenty of bison and my thirst for seeing wildlife was temporarily filled. You can click on the links above to view those stories.
All in all I ended up seeing 7 bears during our brief time in Yellowstone over three different occasions. The top picture is from our morning driving one last time though Yellowstone National Park on the way to Grand Teton National Park. Another traffic jam alerted us to wildlife near the road so we stopped and ended up watching this bear graze for about 45 minutes. A lot of fun to see definitely making me want to return another time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recently while exploring a local park there was a quick movement rustling fallen leaves right in front of me. It was a bit confusing at first as I couldn’t detect any wind so this leaf movement made not logical sense. After searching for a cause I spotted a snake just a few feet from me. Ahh, the reason for this leaf rustling.
Expecting it to quickly disappear I planned on continuing my hike however as I moved it stayed motionless so I grabbed the camera and began taking pictures of this snake. Moving around it I crept ever closer and it stayed there without so much as a flinch allowing me to practice with the camera in such a situation.
This continued for about 30 minutes as I adjusted to take pictures from different angles until I decided I should move on and let the snake move to where ever it needed to as the temperatures where getting colder making it more challenging for the snake to get to a safe place for the night. Near the end it would begin to turn its head towards me and flutter its tongue as if to let me know it was getting more comfortable with my presence and knew I was not a threat to it. An entertaining interaction with it on a pleasant late October afternoon.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the next picture the heron is leaping into the water attacking a potential meal where it was almost complete submerged for a time.
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.
Finally the heron is back standing on the log it began on to begin the search for food all over again.
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.
While out and about recently I’ve been privileged to see life emerging to grow and flourish in the abundance of spring. Some has been persistently pursued while others have been fortunate surprises while exploring local lakes and forests during the beautiful days of May. I feel so lucky to have been a part of life in the greening woods and warming waters to share in the lives of animals as they begin to experience the world around them.
My goal is to go unnoticed by the animals around me so they will continue about their daily routines naturally. Usually I’m unsuccessful in this goal at first but eventually I become a part of the forest over time and the life around me goes on about their business as if everything is normal. At least that’s what I attempt to do and it’s a great feeling when I’m successful at it. Usually animals begin to notice I’m there as I move the camera to get pictures of their activity but I try to be as stealth as possible.
This becomes more challenging because of equipment limitations. Often to get the best pictures, wildlife need to be within 20 feet of me as my zoom lens is limited to this distance currently. I struggle with acquiring more equipment at a considerable cost in many cases and accepting the limitations of what I am fortunate to have. As other photographers will often say, there is always another piece of equipment to get and another lens they would like to get to make certain pictures easier.
Going through the progression of these photos, the first picture is a pair of wood ducks paired up ready to nest and lay eggs. Next is a trumpeter swan sitting on the nest for the long process of incubating eggs. Third is a pair of sandhill cranes teaching their young what to eat and how to stay safe by watching and avoiding threats. Below is a group of baby ducklings skirting across the lake grabbing food along the way. The larger photograph above is of a baby coyote exploring the forest around it’s den while mom is sleeping in the den.
Canadian Geese should be expected this close to Canada so not a big surprise.
This is a caterpillar of a Luna Moth. I’ve only seen one other caterpillar like this and still haven’t seen the moth itself.
I believe this is the Painted Lady Butterfly. Fairly common in this part of the country.
Somehow squirrels made it to the island. They were always eager to help with meals. Unfortunately for this one we didn’t leave anything behind as feeding the animals in a national park is not allowed.
Seagulls are fairly common. I just liked how this one was posing appearing very proud.
There are a multitude of ducks around Isle Royale. I believe this is a Mallard enjoying the morning sun.
Another animal that I can’t quite grasp how they got to the island. They must have stowed away on a boat at one time.
We enjoyed watching this group of ducks. When we first saw them we could only see the mother swimming. After watching for a few minutes one of the babies popped up from under the surface of the water, then another, and then the other 3 or 4. It was entertaining to watch as they would swim on the surface for a minute or two and then dive into the water staying under until the surface was calm and there was no sign they were there. All of a sudden they would begin reappearing in the blink of an eye.
Of course one of the more popular animals on Isle Royale are moose. We were fortunate to see this mother with her two calves stroll right in front of our campsite. There was another moose with her calf that met us on one of the trails causing a slight delay because those who know understand that the moose owns the area they are walking on. It is not considered a good idea to confront a moose, especially one with a calf. Some of the other wildlife on this island include foxes and wolves. We did not get to see either one. It is my understanding that the foxes are sneaking creatures finding creative ways to steal campers stuff so it may not be a bad thing that we did not see any.