The forecast was perfect last night … a G2 Aurora Borealis Watch, No Moon & Clear Skies. Thus, I made the decision to drive 70 miles north of Duluth to the Isabella area. Not only is this area remote, within a few miles of the Canadian border, but it borders the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and is DARK! For 90 minutes I sat on a dock on a remote lake, waiting and hoping. The “Green Glow” was present, but I wanted a solar storm with light spikes. Shortly before midnight I was rewarded, and the Northern Lights continued to dance until dawn. I took the opportunity to check out some locations at which I had been wanting to try night photography. Here are the results … (also took some nice Milky Way photographs … will post those tomorrow)
Waiting … Selfie Under the Green Glow – Shallow Lake (12 miles NW of Isabella)
The Aurora starts to Dance! (Shallow Lake)
The Pagami Creek Wildfire Region (BWCA / Tomahawk Road 18 miles from Mn. Hwy #1)
Had been wanting to check out this entry point to the BWCA. A huge forest fire burned through this area in 2011. The forest is experiencing a rebirth. I often bird here, and had wanted to try some night photography. Mist is rolling in.
Greenwood Lake Boat Access (Lake Cty #2)
Watch the sunrise, or the Northern Lights? Decisions, Decisions. Why not watch both! Given I desperately needed some sleep, I had actually pulled the car over at this boat launch shortly before 4 am because I desperately need some sleep, but God thought otherwise!
Saturday night I photographed for the Milky Way first time, our galaxy! I was visiting a friend’s cabin deep in the Superior National Forest near the Canadian border. He had been the successful bidder for photographic services I had donated to Zoo La La, a benefit for the Lake Superior Zoo. Mark wanted some photographs of the Northern Lights at the family cabin northwest of Isabella, Minnesota. While, the Aurora Borealis did not dance Saturday night, our galaxy was gorgeous!
Question: How does one define dark? Answer: Shallow Lake during a “new moon”
The photograph of the Milky Way was taken in the opposite direction from the Northern Lights. Even with a poor Aurora display, the “green glow” degraded the Milky Way. Many folks “stack” multiple images to photograph the Milky Way, but in my case this actually just a single image… ISO 3,200; 15 second exposure with an aperture of 2.0. It was a good night to be alive!
I learned another thing about my native northern Minnesota. Never trust a weatherman when they say the overnight low would only get down to 54F. I was sleeping outside in the screened-in porch and given the expected weather I only had my light weight summer sleeping bag. By morning the temperature had dropped to 43F, with a heavy dew. My light cotton clothes and sleeping bad were not up to the task of keeping me warm. Moral of the story, even on July 2nd overnight lows get cool!
Finally, if you have a wilderness location in northern Minnesota, and would like a photographs of the night skies, contact me! For your donation to a mutually agreeable charity, I will visit your spot, take photographs, and provide you with the images! I will provide this service w/o any charge to you. My photography services and expenses are my donation.
Green Glow Northern Lights Over Shallow Lake
———- Shallow Lake Milky Way
Sand River Pre-Dawn Mist (40 minutes prior to sunrise)
The Yellow-Shafted Flicker Family (I visited them during my drive back to Duluth. Over the course of three visits I have noticed the larger chick does gets most of the food )
———- My “sleeping pad” for the night time photoshoot (screened in porch). I would get up about once an hour and head down the to dock with my camera and tripod
By the end of February the birding picture here in northern Minnesota becomes tough. In fact, it takes both tough birders and birds to hang in there through our deep cold winter. However, when the birds become few and far between, it becomes “exploration time” for me in the wilderness. The Minnesota Arrowhead contains innumerable logging roads which snake their way through the Superior National Forest, and environs. The scenery is gorgeous even if the birds are sparse. This time of year allows me to discover good bird habitat which I then make plans to visit during warmer weather.
All is not black and white in the winter. If you know where to look, flashes of color appear in the forest which was the case with yesterday’s drive / hike in the Sax-Zim Bog. Should you actually be in the Bog tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 26th), stop by at the Welcome Center. I will be your host, and happy to give my latest birding intelligence.
Old Man Winter has been kind to us so far this year in northern Minnesota, and when the pre-dawn foretold a mild and sunny day, I decided to drive up near the Canadian border and visit the Pagami Creek Wild Fire region. Given the small amount of snow on the ground so far this winter, I knew that Tomahawk Road would still be driveable. Soon heavy snows will make the road impassable till spring.
My goal was to arrive at the entrance to Tomahawk Road around sunrise for two reasons. First, birds tend to be active at dawn after a cool night as they forage for food; and second, an early arrival would get me past the local logging operations before the HUGE trucks take over the initial miles of Tomahawk. As sunrise in the Ely area was at 7:42 am, I timed my arrival perfectly turning onto Tomahawk at 7:45 am.
There were two bird species I really wanted to see, Spruce Grouse and Black Backed Woodpeckers. Both birds are elusive and rare, and woodpecker would be a lifer for me. Please understand that black backed woodpeckers love large burnt out forest fire areas, and thus there are few areas available that have suitable habitat within a days’ drive of my home. Spruce grouse are also rare, and the best viewing opportunities generally require one visit the deep wilderness of northeastern Minnesota.
After yesterday’s fantastic birding in Sax-Zim Bog where I volunteer at the Visitor Center and seeing both a Great Gray Owl and Sharp-Tailed Grouse, I should have been happy with a even a fair day of birding today. Well, I had a simply stupendous day of birding! Not only did I see one spruce grouse, but by the time I completed by roundtrip on Tomahawk Road back to Minnesota Route #1 three hours later my tally included well over 30 spruce grouse (unheard of numbers), and a couple of black-backed woodpeckers including one individual who let me watch and photograph / video him from distances often less than ten feet. Life is good … including a new lifer!
Sunrise – 7:42 am
Arrival at Tomahawk Road: 7:45 am
Spruce Grouse Locations: mile 9.6 (just after Inga Creek) to Isabella Lake BWCA Entry Point parking lot at mile 18.3 … prior to mile 9.6 there are many stands of large pines planted in 1946 which do not seem to host as many birds.
Best Spruce Grouse Location: large flock at mile 9.9 (wetlands on NE side of road, small hill on SW side or road … scattered spruce trees.
Black-Backed Woodpeckers: near the Isabella Lake BWCA Entry Point parking lot and road … stop and listen for pecking sounds … 75% of the time the woodpeckers were on pine trees already laying upon the ground … make sure you get out of the car and walk \ listen.
Departure from Tomahawk Road: 10:30 am
Logging Notes: timber operations were only for the first 1/4 mile of Tomahawk Rd … upon arriving there were 5 large filled logging trucks parked but operations had not yet begun for the day
Traffic: I saw zero vehicles / people the entire time I was on Tomahawk Road, a period of approximately three hours.
Distance from Lester River Bridge in Duluth to the Isabella Lake BWCA Entry Point parking lot on Tomahawk Rd: 93.4 miles (note: it took me 1 & 3/4 hours to reach the turn off Hwy #1 to Tomahawk from Duluth)