There were 40 to 50 mph wind gusts today. I found this Bald Eagle on the North Shore of Lake Superior, and knew the eagle could only take off in one direction. Aerodynamics dictate!
Hanging on for dear life! (the reason I knew the Bald Eagle would shortly take off)
Yesterday I enjoyed showing some new friends around the Northland. Fabio, Rita and Jon flew to Duluth from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the hope of escaping the heat and craziness of Carnival while at the same time doing some winter birding. Even though the birding was hot, it was also cold (-8F inland from Lake Superior to start the morning). For the past few days they had made repeated trips up to Sax-Zim Bog at sunrise and sunset. While they had seen lots of cool winter birds, the elusive Gray Ghost of the Forest, the Great Gray Owl had eluded them.
To put it mildly they were more than pleased while visiting “my owling grounds”. On our first birding stop of the morning we found a Great Gray Owl within just a few minutes. Later that morning we found a flock of snow buntings winging their way northward to breed up on the Arctic tundra. Life was good!
While I did not join my new friends birding this morning, I was not surprised to find them on the North Shore a bit after sunrise. Pleasant words were exchanged and then I pointed them towards another Great Gray Owl. I think it was truly a good Carnival!
Here are a few images I took of the Gray Ghost during this morning’s snow squall. The combination of the snow (dark skies) and light wind made for perfect owling conditions. Finally I’ve included some backyard birds from yesterday afternoon. The sun came out for a few hours and some locals made an appearance in my yard!
Highway Curve and Talons (This owl actually flew from a perch over 100 yards distant and landed less than ten yards from me! It used the sign for almost five minutes as a hunting perch. I did not even breathe!!!)
Great Gray Owl on the Hunt (In the second photo it is not glaring at me. Rather, it has missed its target vole and is intently concentrating. A few seconds later it pounced 5 yards further away in search of its prey)
Molly and I were off the grid this past weekend, up at Frostbite Falls next to Minnesota’s northern border with Canada. While we did not find Bullwinkle J. Moose, the area itself did not disappoint. We stayed at Naniboujou Lodge. Our stay was a gift from our middle son and his wife in thanks for our support of their recent union, both financial and otherwise. This Lodge is near the Canadian border and has a gorgeous spot on Lake Superior. The area is so remote that there is no cell coverage, and Naniboujou prides itself on NOT providing wifi access for their guests. The goals is to unhook, unwind, and relax!
I believe the goal was accomplished. Here are a few photographs I took over the weekend. From a photography vantage point please note how the horizon is not at the center of each photo. With photography, the lines of the photograph which draw the viewer into the image should make themselves evident, but not necessarily the middle. This is often a common mistake of beginning photographers … splitting the picture in half between sky and ground.
Good Morning Minnesota, Good Morning Michigan! I captured the moment of sunrise over the Susie Islands (Minnesota) and Isle Royale (Michigan) on Saturday morning. The Suzie Islands are the eastern most point in Minnesota. The overlook on Mount Josephine allows one to also see Isle Royale National Park in the distance.
Yesterday evening I finally captured a good photograph of a Great Gray Owl hunting. Over the past two weeks, I have hiked many miles of trails, driven many back roads and watched an incredible number of owls in my quest to get some good images of the “gray ghost of the forest” while it was hunting. Here is the result of the quest!
From this point on I want to take a different tack with this post. Why has it been so difficult for me, a decent wildlife photographer, to obtain a hunting photo? Perhaps because I refuse to bait owls with pet shop mice?
Have you ever seen a dramatic photograph of an owl reaching with its talons to grab a mouse or a vole? While the image may not involve baiting, please consider that Great Gray Owls hunt by hearing their prey beneath the snow. Mice and voles normally do not run on top of the snow. With their phenomenal hearing, these owls triangulate their prey, strike and punch through the snow. In addition, while watching owls hunt I can personally attest that the habitat in which you find Great Grays normally has “meadow like” sections, but there are always trees, snags, brush and other stuff which often prevents a straight line of sight to where the owl ultimately strikes the snow in search of its prey. After all, an owl sitting on top of a tree while hunting may fly in any direction. If you doubt that fact, find yourself an owl, and watch how it turns its head almost 180 degrees from the way it is facing. Are you are able to predict in which direction will be its next flight?
My friend, Michael Furtman, who is a great outdoor photographer and author has been writing a series of Facebook posts on the issue of owl baiting. For those of you not familiar with the issue, photographers w/o any conservation morals purchase pet shop mice and set up each photograph. In short, they sacrifice a life for every photograph in their quest for the perfect raptor hunting image. In addition the owl gets accustomed to humans which is dangerous. These are wild creatures which need to survive in the wild. Associating humans with food is dangerous for them. If you want to do some follow-up research on the subject of owl baiting, browse to these sources.
Now back to yesterday afternoon and my quest to capture a good Great Gray Owl hunting image. Notice how my photo given above was not taken on a bright sunny day. Owls hate bright light (sunny days) and high winds. These birds are nocturnal and hunt by hearing their prey (windy conditions make it hard to hear mice or voles). Thus, yesterday afternoon was perfect for owling … light snow, darker skies and calm winds. From a photography vantage point the conditions were horrible. A baiter would want to find an owl on a bright sunny day, and lure it out of its deep cover with pet shop mice because of the perfect photographic conditions.
In total I spent almost 2 and 1/2 hours with this particular owl yesterday, both in the early morning and late afternoon. This owl was not a “roadside owl” which folks are able to photograph from their cars. Instead I had hiked deep into the forest to good habitat, and found a cooperative owl. Not once did this owl flush due to my presence. I kept my distance and let the bird hunt.
Here are some of my “failure photos” and two images which show the habitat in which the owl was hunting. These pictures are as important as my success image for demonstrating why I often find the perfect owl pictures suspect.
Yesterday’s Owl Habitat on the Ground. My owl captured a vole with this strike, but it was impossible for me to get a clean photograph. I was slogging through knee deep snow, and obviously had no idea where voles were running underneath the snow.