Tag Archives: McQuade Harbor

Northern Lights, Bird Irruptions and Boats!

These topics might not seem related, and generally they are not, but over the past 48 hours I have had a phenomenal run as a outdoor / wildlife photographer up here in the Northland. I’ll discuss each outing in turn but first mention I am in desperate need of some sleep!

This morning I awoke at 5 am (normal). While eating my bowl of cereal I checked my marine app which gives me the location of every ship on Lake Superior. I noticed that the Saltie, the Eldeborg would be passing under the Duluth Aerial Bridge sometime before dawn. Thus, even though I had been out last night photographing the Northern Lights, and also out during the wee hours of the previous night for another Aurora display, I quickly got dressed and grabbed my camera.

Arriving on site at Canal Park I turned on my camera, ready to photograph the freighter passing through the Duluth Ship Canal. Suddenly I notice my camera’s LCD screen was flashing “No Card, No Card”. Arrrgh! I realized that when I had arrived back from photographing the Northern Lights last night, after transferring the images to my computer, in my tired state, I forgot to put my simm card back in my Sony A6000.

I looked down the Canal, and I hoped that if I ran fast … completing my fastest 800m dash since junior high, I grabbed another simm card out of my card and ran back to my planned POV. I made it with about five seconds to spare, just beating the ship to my spot. This image was the result.

Why did I photograph a ship at dawn this morning? There are two answers:

  1. I am a boy, and I love boats!
  2. The Northern Lights display that has been active over the past 48 hours, finally calmed down

Yes, over the past two nights I have spent a significant amount of time at Stewart Lake, which is a wilderness lake ten miles north of Two Harbors, Minnesota. Each trip to the lake has been different. In this first image, I photographed the Aurora Borealis under an almost full moon at 4:45 am. The moonlight was so intense it washed out most of the Northern Lights display, but provided great lighting for this composition.

Later the same day, yesterday night, I returned to the same location. I timed my arrival to get to Stewart Lake well after dark, but before the moon rose. Lady Aurora danced over the frozen lake ice! For over 20 minutes the lights shimmered and danced, easily viewable to the naked eye. The first photo was taken of the Auroral Arc just before the dance began.

Okay … the blog’s title talks about birds, and my outings have not neglected our fine feather friends. Over the past two weeks the number of Arctic birds which have appeared in NE Minnesota has been amazing. Quite a few Snowy Owls have already been seen, including by me.  Given it is only November 8th, the numbers of Snow Owls is very unusual. Normally, we might start to see Snowies sometime after the 1st of December. The numbers of Rough-Legged Hawks, Redpolls, and Pine Siskins have been huge. Hawk Ridge recorded the largest number of Roughies ever seen anywhere in North America during the Fall migration. Personally, I am beginning to wonder if the winter of 2017 / 2018 will be an irruption year.

Here are just a few photographs from the past several days:

Hoary Redpoll

Red Crossbill

Red-Throated Loon (winter plumage)

Long-Tailed Duck (female)

Common Redpolls Eating Tansy

Birding by Bicycle: Horned Lark!

Yesterday I added a new trusty mount to my herd, a mountain bike. This new bicycle will not often be used for trail riding. Instead I plan on biking the numerous remote wilderness logging roads found throughout northeastern Minnesota. Although I can reach all of these areas via my Subaru Outback and then hike, the bike allows me to quietly cover much more territory while getting some nice exercise.

This is my second bike which may now equipped for bicycle birding. My road touring bike, aside from taking me all over North America with Molly on self-supported bike tours, doubles as a birding road bicycle.

My biking kit is pretty basic but includes:

  • front handlebar bag capable my Canon SX-60 super zoom bridge camera
  • tire change kit
  • phone and wallet
  • light cycling jacket

In addition, I always have my monopod attached to the bike. When you are in the middle of a 20 mile ride, upon getting off one’s bicycle because of heavy breathing (remember, this is exercise) it is hard to hold a “zoomed camera” very steady. Try giving birding by bicycle a try! (see prior post with a similar them … shows closeup of my equipment)

The Horned Lark I photographed this morning

Birding Bicycle #1: Mountain Bike used for riding dirt logging roads. I also used this bike to explore some remote lakes. Six hours later I would return by car to photograph the Northern Lights display! (good to see areas in the daytime first)

Birding Bicycle #2: Touring Bike used for riding paved roads

Northern Birds … in the Rain!

The weather the past two days has been ugly with over an inch of rain, but the birds flying south from Canada including the Arctic regions do not seem to care. Yesterday there was a bug hatch taking place at McQuade Harbor, and flocks of combined Palm Warblers, American Pipits and Horned Larks enjoyed dinner at the harbor. My freindly neighborhood snow goose continues to hang out in the same area.

Today’s weather was even worse than yesterday. I made a drive over to the Old Stella Jones Pier, where I found a flock of over 600 horned larks, a small flock of American Golden Plovers (14 birds), and a few Kestrels. Photography was difficult due to the mist and fog.

Tomorrow the sun is supposed to return. I am looking forward to getting out in the forest and enjoying the colors.

Snow Goose in the Rain

Horned Larks

Palm Warbler

Northern Birds … Arriving Now!

The final migration wave of birds from northern Canada are starting to reach Minnesota. During today’s dawn bicycle ride up the shore of Lake Superior I saw both a Snow Goose, and Pipits. Both birds are always late migrants into our area.

Yesterday Molly and I took a final boat ride on NorthStar Lake. This gem of a lake, where we have a small cabin, is 100 miles NW of Duluth. The Common Loons are now in their winter plumage and should head south any day now. The Bald Eagles appear to have kicked their youngster out of the nest. Winter will be hear soon in the North Country.

My Trusty Steed … this morning’s bike ride

A Snow Goose makes a rare visit to our area

Your type is not desired here!

A fall plumage Common Loon

This Bald Eagle couple have kicked their youngster out of the nest!

A Black Bellied Plover … still in breeding plumage (video taken two weeks ago)